By Andrew Bonani Kamanga
The motorsport industry is a booming industry commanding the support of huge global commercial partners. In terms of the motorsport business and its direct relationship with tourism, there are two major properties, the Formula One and the Dakar Rally. In terms of Formula One or F1, as it is popularly referred to, Africa still has a long way to go in terms of establishing a circuit and facilities fit for the event. However, in terms of motor rally property, Africa had a huge event in the form of the annual Paris-Dakar Rally. However, the advent of Islamic extremists and terrorism in North and West Africa raised serious safety and security issues and forced the transfer of the Dakar Rally to South America.
In its current form, the Dakar Rally raises the profile of the countries of Argentina, Chile and Peru thereby improving in-bound tourism to the countries before, during and after the Dakar Rally. Sport tourism related to the event is an important tool in the diversification and transformation of the economies of these South American countries.
Sport tourism contributes to employment creation and poverty alleviation. The existing formal economies of Southern Africa are not creating jobs fast enough to absorb the millions of graduates leaving various colleges and universities. 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. It is, therefore, important to explore other economic sectors in order to create opportunities for growth and development.
The Toyota Desert Race held in Botswana is also an example of how motorsport can help to promote tourism. There is actually need to expand the scope of this event to make it a global mega event, which captivates commercial partners as well as the hearts and minds of television viewers all over the world. The terrain of the Western Cape in South Africa, Botswana and Namibia provides one of the best settings in the world for a rally event of various categories of vehicles. It is up to the motorsport authorities to think outside the box as well as dream bigger.
Southern Africa needs to re-brand itself. There is a need for the sub-region to differentiate itself from the rest of the continent. There is nothing wrong with this, as this does not constitute a rejection of the rest of the continent but moves to ensure that efforts are made to transform the everyday lives of the people in this part of the continent. In the long term, it will actually be beneficial to the entire continent. It is a fact that Southern Africa is relatively more homogeneous, economically and politically stable than the rest of Africa. This is a testimony to the hard work done by the political leaders over the past decades.
The de-prioritisation of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Protocol of Culture, Information and Sport speak volumes about the little importance of the sport sector in promoting regional integration in the eyes of the regional head honchos. However, this should not dampen the spirits of the sport leaders. Sport development and promotion were there before the advent of SADC and it will continue to thrive without the sport of the regional body.
It is, therefore, important to develop a regional sport tourism policy that addresses the diversity of Southern Africa, with a view to making the region the most attractive and competitive when it comes to the hosting of continental and world events. In this connection, there is a need for national and regional sport organizations as well as tourism authorities to come to together regularly to discuss strategies and plans in light of global trends. The global sport industry and auxiliary activities are now valued at approximately above US$100 billion annually. Without proper policies and strategies, Africa and Southern Africa by extension will continue to be seriously marginalised in terms of the benefits of the global sport industry. The development and sustenance of a vibrant sport tourism industry is one of the ways of ensuring that Southern Africa and its people benefit from the explosion of activities associated with sport development and events.
An expanded Toyota Desert Race linking up South Africa, Botswana and Namibia would be a magnet for further development in the Trans-Kgalagadi Frontier sparking economic development and activity in this peripheral area. The area is also endowed with abundant wildlife and other sites of great historical and cultural interest. Taking into account that the Dakar Rally generates more than US$1 billion in overall economic activity, the Toyota Desert Race can, for starters, target a third or quarter of that economic activity. This will be a massive development. The advent of Kwese TV to challenge the erstwhile dominance of Supersport is also a positive development for television broadcast rights for such a mega event.
The motorsport industry can greatly assist with in-bound tourism to Southern Africa. The era of business, as usual, is long gone. The time for serious consultations and regional strategies on sport tourism is now!