In the wake of dwindling fortunes in the multi-billion-shilling tourism industry, stakeholders now want urgent steps taken to tap into the largely unexploited sports tourism segment.
Several interviews with key industry players conducted by Weekend Business showed the growing interest by industry players in the new area.
Globally, sports tourism generates around $600 billion (Sh61 trillion) a year, according to the World Travel Market.
Data also shows that more countries are becoming increasingly reliant on sports tourism and believe it is a viable way to recover from the effects of recession.
In Kenya more athletes from Europe, Asia, the United States visit the country to train. In recent years, the country has hosted global sport stars, including Usain Bolt, who visited Kenya for charity work in 2009, and world tennis star Serena Williams in 2010.
The sports tourism sector is the fastest growing going by the latest data from the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO).
“Sports tourism, if well tapped and harnessed, could offer the much-desired route to industry recovery efforts,’’ said Ms Lydia Dentewo, the Group General Manager Lake Bogoria Spa Resorts. Ms Dentewo said Kenya has world-class attractions for sports tourism, which include high attitude training facilities for athletes in the Rift Valley.
“We have areas in the Rift Valley like Iten for high altitude training and the Kenyan Coast which are endowed with world-class facilities like stadiums to attract legions of athletes from around the world,’’ she said.
Ms Dentewo noted that some extreme sports such as paragliding and skydiving, are suited to the Coast region and the expansive Rift Valley.
She said besides the national Government, county governments also need to develop appropriate infrastructure and ensure there is an enabling environment for investors to set up facilities in counties.
Kenya Coast Tourist Association (KCTA) chairman Mohamed Hersi said the Coast region could benefit from laying out modern facilities.
“Despite the potential in sports tourism, Kenya is not yet fully prepared to reap from this sector,’’ Hersi, who is also the Chief Executive Officer of the Heritage Group of Hotels, said. Plaza Beach General Manager John Dennis Gwaro also acknowledged that there exist great potential in sports tourism in the coast region. Gwaro noted that this should go hand in hand with searching for talent.
Swahili Beach General Manager Jeff Mukolwe said the Coast region remains virtually unexplored when it comes to sports tourism.