The County Government of Nakuru has intensified its efforts to tap into sports tourism, through Sh800 million investments in building new sporting facilities and refurbishing existing ones.
The devolved unit has also disclosed plans for collaborations with athletics, golfers and rugby players from the region to promote Nakuru as a tourism destination.
Governor Susan Kihika said renowned sportsmen from Nakuru travel to many countries and have the potential to market the county’s rich ecosystem.
She said that the county had invested Sh124 million in the first phase of the construction of the Keringet sports academy and a training camp in Ndabibit village in Kuresoi South Sub-County.
The ultra-modern high altitude training centre, Ms Kihika pointed out, will help nurture talents from Nakuru and other parts of the South Rift region.
Keringet has produced athletics champions including former world marathon champion Geoffrey Kirui and the reigning Olympics 1,500m champion Faith Chepng’etich.
Others are national cross country champion Amos Kirui, former world marathon champion Geoffrey Kirui, world 800m bronze medalist Ferguson Rotich, 2006 world under-20 3,000m steeplechase champion Caroline Tuigong, Isaiah Kiplangat, Josphat Bett, Mercy Chebwogen, Roseline Chepngetich, Commonwealth Games 800m champion Wycliffe Kinyamal, Ronald Kirui and Alfred Ng’eno among others.
Speaking when she inspected the ongoing Shs 600 million refurbishment works at the 74 year old Afraha stadium, Ms Kihika said her administration will exploit Kenya’s prowess in Rugby 7s, athletics, golf and other international sports to draw visitors to its national parks, historic and cultural sites.
“Sports tourism is a low-hanging fruit for Kenya, and it’s inexpensive to promote and develop. Kenya has been offering sports tourism in such events as the Safari Rally, Kenya Open Golf Championships, World Athletics events, road races and at a small scale, athletes coming to train in Kenya particularly in athletics. Tourism has evolved over the years from Safari and the beaches to sports tourism. Sports tourism is becoming an important contributor to local and national social-economic development across the continent,” noted the Governor.
The World Travel Market puts sports tourism returns at $600 billion (Sh71.4 trillion) annually worldwide. In Kenya, the social pillar of Vision 2030 aims to use sports to improve social, economic, and political development.
While indicating that Kenya is a global giant in athletics dominating long distance running in the last 70 years, Ms Kihika said beyond reducing unemployment rates drastically, there is national pride and patriotism to be cherished plus amazing talent developed in sports.
Sports events are becoming a major driver of economic development worldwide. We estimate that globally, the industry is worth around $620 billion (Sh62 trillion). That figure represents a significant portion of the $4.5 trillion (Sh450 trillion) estimated value of the tourism industry.
This was clearly demonstrated by last year’s WRC Safari Rally event in Naivasha which is estimated to have contributed Sh6 billion within three days. In the global arena, the sports tourism market is seen to be a fast-growing sector of the travel industry estimated at Sh60.7 trillion a year.
Ms Kihika observed that sports tourism was a viable pathway for generating visitor spending and promoting a destination’s local attractions and outlying districts and added that sports tourism was great for the economy as it generates economic impact through direct spending.
She stated that with the agreement of Kenya to hold WRC Safari Rally till 2026, sports tourism is set for a rapid growth.
“It is worth developing sports tourism as this will significantly contribute to diversification of tourism products post-Covid-19.
According to the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), the global tourism market is projected to grow between two and three per cent – with the sport tourism sector expected to grow in the region of 14 per cent.
Indeed, many observers regard international sports as being one of the primary reasons for this global growth in tourism.
Ms Kihika explained that the upgrade of Afraha Stadium to International standards delays was caused by the restructuring of some utilities that had passed through the stadium.
Some of them include power lines and water pipes which supply water to the households neighboring the stadium.
She added that the cost of materials such as steel had also changed, causing a restructuring of the contract which caused the works to be halted for a short period.
“I can assure you that by June this year we shall have completed the first phase of this stadium” she said.
It should be noted that the first phase entails a modern football pitch, running track, changing rooms, parking space and a restaurant, among other amenities.
The stadium will have a modern swimming pool, a gymnasium, a running turf and an outdoor gaming facility among others, joining the league of big stadiums like Kasarani Stadium in Nairobi.
The sports fraternity has termed the refurbishment a key move towards enhancing sports tourism in the region.
Once completed, World Bank funded project is expected to hold up to 7,000 people.
According to Governor Kihika, the ultra-modern Keringet sports complex cum training camp will help in nurturing talent and encourage young athletes in the region while at the same time tapping revenue through sports tourism.
“The sports complex will be fully equipped to help athletes in training. It will also accommodate other sports in the county as part of efforts to improve sports in the talent-rich region,” Governor Kihika stated.
“We will have international athletes camping at the centre as it will be a state-of-the-art high altitude training facility,” she added. The sports centre is being built in two phases.
“Phase one of the ultra-modern facility will include construction of running tracks, field events athletics pitch, frontage fence, gatehouse, generator house, chain link fence for the entire academy and toilets,” revealed Ms Kihika.
The sports complex, which is being built on an over 20-acre parcel of land, will serve local and international athletes who have been experiencing lack of training facilities.
Previously, athletes from Nakuru have had to travel to Iten and Sirikwa sports academy for training.
By Anne Mwale