THE Zimbabwean Government has thrown its full weight towards promoting development and growth of the tourism sector through sports as part of an aggressive drive to market the country as a favourable destination.
At a time when the new administration is seeking ways to transform the economy, tourism is regarded as a low-hanging fruit, with potential to widen the employment base and help alleviate poverty in the short to medium term. The involvement of travellers in sporting events, in an active or passive form, has become a worldwide phenomenon, and studies indicate the trend would increase at a compound rate.
According to the United Nations, the last two decades have seen growing focus on sports tourism globally, involving travel for purposes of watching sports events, active participation in sports or simply to gaze at sports facilities infrastructure.
In that regard, a number of strategies, including sports tourism, have been tabled for implementation by the Ministry of Tourism and Hospitality Industry. Using a similar framework, the country is seeking leverage through sports, to add impetus to its abundant natural wildlife and heritage tourism resources.
A fortnight ago Government, through the Zimbabwe Tourism Authority (ZTA), received the World Class Legends, a team of former top footballers who toured the country’s resort destinations for a whole week. The expedition ended with an exhibition match against Zimbabwe’s football legends on 20 June at the National Sports Stadium. Top local league clubs – Highlanders and Dynamos -- also participated in the event.
The visiting legends included Patrick Kluivert, Julio Baptista, Joan Capdevila, Albert Luque, Ruben De la red, Fernando Morientes, David Albelda, Fernando Sans, Andres Palop, Koke Contreras, Lucas Zambrotta, Francesco Coco and Marcos Senna Amaral. The delegation was led by its, Rayco Garcia.
They first visited the country’s prime resort destination, Victoria Falls, and later toured Kariba, the Eastern Highlands, Great Zimbabwe, local suburbs such as Mbare, Chitungwiza, Mabvuku, Tafara, Kuwadzana, Kambuzuma, Mufakose and many other high and low density suburbs. Under this new framework, the World Class Legends are now tourism ambassadors who will help market Zimbabwe through various platforms that include social media, print and electronic media.
“The purpose of this initiative was to promote tourism in Zimbabwe through sport in line with Government policy. World Class Legends are now ambassadors to the Zimbabwe destination under the ‘Zimbabwe is open for business mantra',” said Tourism Minister Prisca Mupfumira.
Through the initiative, the legends are expected to use their wider network covering millions of people across the globe to market the Zimbabwean brand.
Zimbabweans also got an opportunity to interact with the football legends while a proposal has been made to have a football academy built in Harare to promote and develop the sport, especially for the under privileged boys. According to Geoffrey Manyara, a tourism expert with UN Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), sports tourists spend more at destinations than their non-sporting counterparts.
For example, the Commission notes that about 900,000 tourists are estimated to attend English Premier League football games every year. These tourists are believed to spend £785 per visitor compared to £583 spent by those engaged in other tourist activities. Similarly, the International Association of Golf Tour Operators observes that golf tourism is worth $100 billion a year and that Africa only accounts for 3%.
Moreover, golf tourists spend an estimated 20 percent more than other travellers and currently, there are over 60 million golfers worldwide, of which about 10 percent travel overseas for holidays. These visitors, says the ECA, generate enormous economic activity through different forms of expenditure on sporting and non-sporting activities.
Zimbabwe has recently hosted successful regional sporting tournaments such as the 2014 African Union Sports Council Region Five under 20 Games and the 2018 World Cup Cricket qualifier tournament. These have been attended by thousands of visitors and yielded huge business to local tour operators, hoteliers and commerce players at large. These have augmented activity and earnings from conferences and exhibitions tourism.
Similarly, Mupfumira said local top football clubs — Highlanders and Dynamos – would be ropped in as partners to also assist in drumming up domestic tourism given their influence in the country. She stressed that Zimbabwe has a rich natural tourism resource base and an attractive culture and skills that makes her best positioned as a top tourist destination.
World Class Legends group leader, Rayco Garcia, said Zimbabwe was an exciting destination and expressed satisfaction with the exposure and experience the delegation got in the country.
“We appreciate all of you for the hospitality and the wonderful days we have had in Victoria Falls, one of the wonders you have in this country. Now is the time to open Zimbabwe for business,” he said. “I feel so proud today and we are putting our hand in placing Zimbabwe in the limelight as a land of opportunity and the future.”
The legends pledged to facilitate a 10-day attachment for the technical teams from Highlanders and Dynamos with the Spanish top teams, Barcelona and Real Madrid soon.
ZTA chief executive officer, Karikoga Kaseke, has said he was positive partnership with the World Class Legends would definitely market Zimbabwe and encourage more tourism traffic into Zimbabwe. Recognising that sports tourism could be a viable sector that countries should consider, the ECA in collaboration with Rwanda Convention Bureau and Kigali Golf Club organised a meeting in February this year in which they discussed how sport, golf in particular, could be the next tourism frontier for Rwanda. The meeting observed how sports tourism offers several economic benefits to local communities, the region and the whole the country hosting the sports event.
“There is a growing interest and prioritisation of the tourism industry across Africa, because countries have realised the immense, yet untapped tourism possibilities that exist on the continent. Sports tourism is one of them,” said Daya Bragante, head of the cluster on Sub-Regional Initiatives at ECA in Eastern Africa.
Participants at the Kigali meeting have noted that sports tourism could be the catalyst for the development of infrastructure such as stadia, hotels, transportation networks, roads, telecommunication other infrastructure. They called for more concerted efforts to formulate appropriate policies and avenues that may create meaningful economic development opportunities through golf tourism. Rwanda has already started putting in place measures that promote sports activities, which could attract tourists. Zimbabwe, thus, stands to benefit immensely through embracing a similar model in developing its tourism industry, which is likely to yield increased earnings.