Sports tourism is travel which involves either viewing or partaking in a sporting activity, while staying away from the tourists’ usual environment. Globally, the industry is growing at a rapid pace, and is worth about $7.68 billion. Across most parts of Africa, domestic and international soccer is in action, giving clubs and administrators a lifeline to earn and survive. But the most important part of the sport is to have audiences attending the matches, which however, is not yet allowed due to Covid-19 restrictions. This has resulted in many people who rely on sports tourism to lament the delay in opening up stadiums. To find out more on how the pandemic affected sports tourism, Nomad Africa’s journalist Martin Chemhere, talks to Dr Siyabulela Nyikana, Lecturer, School of Tourism and Hospitality, University of Johannesburg.
Nomad Africa: Tell us about how the sports tourism ecosystem has been hard hit by the lockdowns in the region?
Dr Siyabulela: The lockdown had a very big impact on sport tourism and its activities. If one looks at it from the point of view of the total shutdown of all sporting activities, then the impact was significant across board, with virtually the whole ecosystem being impacted negatively. People were unable to attend or participate in sporting activities. For avid supporters of sport for example, not being able to go spectate or even watch at home was a major blow. From an economic point of view, this was a major financial blow for all the bodies and organizations involved. Arguably, the losses were well into the millions in terms of monetary value lost. Besides these, there was a mental implication on this. People would participate in small-scale outdoor recreational activities like Park runs and mini-marathons, hiking etc., which they suddenly could not engage in. From the context of a Gauteng province, where the bulk of the province is developed, and as such, those outdoor activities tend to offer a much more relaxing feeling from the busy lifestyle, this had a great implication. So in essence the lockdown, while being a necessity in the fight against the pandemic, had a very negative impact on sport tourism.
Nomad Africa: What are the short term prospects for the sports tourism sector in general likely to be and what needs to be done right now in the region?
Dr Siyabulela: It is still very difficult to anticipate how things will unfold for the sector. For starters, there is still a lot of uncertainty around certain things. We understand that initial conversations are taking place to explore the potential of having spectators at certain games like football matches for example. But this is still highly uncertain. But the fact that there have been such conversations, and there has been sport (Football, Rugby, Cricket etc.) available to watch is starting to bring a sense of positivity in terms of the prospects of overcoming this period. This is matched by the efforts of authorities in finding vaccines and trying to kick-start different areas of the economy. There is still little that the industry can do besides waiting for the government to give direction. They can only do the little things that they have control of particularly ensuring that whatever is happening in terms of the sporting activities is done within the necessary guidelines. We have seen for example the pulling out of the Australian cricket team from touring South Africa, citing fears linked with the pandemic, as well as the mooted relocation of the Irish and British Lions rugby team that would have come here. Both of those tours were going to have a massive positive economic impact on the country generally and Gauteng as one of the host provinces.
Nomad Africa: What are the concerns that are likely to arise from delayed return of fans to sports events in Southern Africa?
Dr Siyabulela: There are obviously issues around the return of fans to stadiums and venues. I think, even when they proclaim that it is safe, there would be a lot of reservations from people. In any case, the delay is having a major financial implication from gate revenues, and to the lack of activity for the informal local business sector that normally benefits from matches (selling merchandise, food and drinks etc. around stadia). In the context of Southern Africa, this market is a big part of the economy, so the longer the delay, the more likely that the local communities continue to suffer in this respect.
Nomad Africa: In monetary terms how much is the sports tourism industry worth in Southern Africa?
Dr Siyabulela: It is very difficult to estimate the monetary value of the industry, especially in the Southern African context. There are numerous factors to look at including the varied nature of the different countries in this context, to the lack of standardized measuring tools. One needs to consider the fact that there is a big small-scale, homegrown sporting events sector that is largely unaccounted for in financial terms. If you look at a simple concept of local marathons, you see that arguably, the participants outnumber the attendees/spectators because it’s largely friends and relatives who go to these places to support their loved ones. But to account for the financial implication of this becomes very difficult. On a very vague and general estimation, one can only assume that the industry in the regional context is one that goes well into the millions of rands.
Nomad Africa: How well developed is the Southern African sports tourism industry?
Dr Siyabulela: Sport tourism is a relatively well developed sector in Southern Africa given how much the region has invested in the sector. However, the contextual difference between individual states makes it difficult to make this assertion with much confidence. If you look at a South Africa as an example, where sport tourism has been relatively well invested into, well researched and regulated, and you try to compare that with the other countries, stark differences are observed. Only from the perspective of the maturity of the industry here (the country has hosted many major and mega-events successfully and developed world-class infrastructure and venues to support the growth of this sector, whereas other countries have not).
Nomad Africa: What have been the common challenges like in developing sports tourism in the region?
Dr Siyabulela: Regarding the challenges in developing sport tourism, in an African context generally, these tend to be similar. Ranging from the reluctance of investing from investors owing to what they perceive as being strained relations between different stakeholders, to corruption, lack of requisite infrastructure in certain areas, and limited collaborations (that are effective) from the different stakeholders and many others.
Nomad Africa: Which Southern African country has the best developed sports tourism industry and why?
Dr Siyabulela: As mentioned above, South Africa arguably has the most developed sport tourism sector because it is one that is well defined, well researched, and well developed. Moreover, the progress the country has made in hosting major and mega-events has resulted in many lessons that are being used to further develop this sector. In any case, it is still one of the few countries in the region which developed a specific sport tourism framework/strategy and has actively sought to implement this strategy to ensure the maximizing of the benefits that can be derived from the sector, altogether.
Nomad Africa: To what extent has sports based tourism contributed to Southern Africa’s tourism growth and dynamism?
Dr Siyabulela: Sport tourism has played a great role in the development and growth of Southern Africa, because in hosting the mega-events for example, South Africa purposefully sought to leverage the benefits to the other countries within the region. Moreover, the continued investment in these has also served to open up opportunities for a vibrant industry that looks beyond just the sports involved. In recent times, a huge part of sport tourism and its activities, has been marketing and branding of the region and this is done before, during and post-events.