Sport Tourism: Unexploited engine of growth for the Southern African tourism industry
The unprecedented rise in the numbers of people traveling to and from sport events all over the world has given rise to the term “sport tourism”. Sport tourism can generally be described as travel focusing primarily on either engaging in or observing a sporting event as an official, journalist or as a spectator. Sporting events are now big catalysts for general tourism which also promote return visits to the same country or city as well as word of mouth encouragement or advertisement for others to visit. It would be interesting to find out how many people in a year visit and spend money in Southern Africa for sporting reasons. In this connection, there is need for national and regional sport as well as tourism authorities to come to together regularly to discuss strategies and plans in light of global trends. Such collaboration would enable the region and individual countries to strategically position themselves with a view to promoting growth and development in the sport tourism sub-sector.
The growth of the sport tourism sub-sector can contribute tremendously to employment creation and economic growth. The transport and hospitality sectors need larger volumes of traffic. It can never be said that too much business is bad. This is what the fragile economies of Southern Africa actually need. High level scheduled premier sporting events always attract crowds either locally in a city or nation-wide. In some cases, visitors can come from across borders or even from other continents to participate or observe events. Over and above the obvious economic gains, sport tourism can help to promote regional integration as well as people-to-people interaction and solidarity. Sport tourism can also help to reduce incidences of xenophobia and discrimination as people become accustomed to dealing with diversity and each other across cities, provinces and countries.
Recent data from the Visit Britain research report indicates that in 2014 the United Kingdom received about 800 000 football tourists who spent approximately £684million in the country. This is undoubtedly a significant shot in the arm for the UK economy. The main football product, the English Premiership, is indeed a valuable brand attracting visitors from across the globe. Obviously, the English FA and Premier League have toiled for a long time to build such a formidable brand. These achievements are not one day or overnight wonders but are as a result of deliberate planning and execution at club and national levels to develop products and brands that , first and foremost, locals are proud to be associated with. As the old saying goes, “Charity begins at home”.
If the local sports authorities are not able to attract and excite local sports fans and enthusiasts, what chances are there of attracting regional, continental or international visitors? National associations and regional sports confederations must always strive for excellence in organization and hosting of events. Improvement in the products on offer will attract spectatorship of various people, regardless of age, socio-economic background or geographic location.
The chronic unemployment affecting Southern African countries, especially the youth needs concerted efforts from all sectors of the economy. Southern African sports leaders must, therefore, contribute to the improvement of the lives of ordinary people if they are to be taken seriously. In order to have attractive sporting events, there is an equal need to invest in the development of strong clubs and leagues. These will facilitate effective skills development as well as efficient leadership and governance structures for the associations and regional confederations. To this end, local national sports associations need to solicit for development sponsorship as opposed to just event or league sponsorships.
National Olympic Committees (NOCs) and sports associations must invest heavily in the training of club coaches and leaders if Southern African sport is to develop to even greater heights. Governments by themselves cannot shoulder responsibility for the development of sport especially at grass-roots level. The resource requirements are too colossal for Governments taking into consideration other competing priorities on national development agendas. This is where community self-reliance and the mobilization of corporate sponsorship should be encouraged.
National sports associations should find innovative ways of packaging and marketing their development projects to business houses in certain localities and the private sector in general. For example, a local general dealer or supermarket could be approached to sponsor a training programme in the form of an event management or club management course for that particular locality as a demonstration of corporate social responsibility. This will ensure capacity building for that area leading to the emergence of a sound clubs and league structures for local competition which might not need sports people to travel long distances as is the case in most sports codes. Strong clubs and leagues are the bedrock of a vibrant sports industry leading to enhanced sport tourism.
Hosting of major continental and international events for global recognition is the proverbial “cherry on the cake”. To this end, courses in sport event management must be promoted throughout Southern Africa at all levels to ensure adoption and implementation of high standards. Sport organizations at local, national and regional levels need to wean themselves from over-reliance on Government financial support through better organization and simply making things happen! The time for action is NOW!