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 of stadiums. To unpack how this has affected sports tourism, especially in South Africa, our journalist, Martin Chemhere, talks to Dr Esmarie Myburgh, Senior Lecturer, Sport Tourism, Management and Marketing, Potchefstroom University.

Nomad Africa: What has been the impact of lockdowns like to the South African sports tourism ecosystem?

Dr Esmarie Myburgh: The Covid-19 pandemic has influenced the sport tourism section in a way that has never been seen before. Restrictions and lockdown regulations has led to a dramatic decrease in sport tourism and has resulted in the cancellation and postponement of a variety of sporting events around the world. The most noticeable victim the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. In South Africa lockdown has forced the cancelation of some of annual sport events such as the Two Oceans Marathon, the ABSA Cape Epic, the Athletics South Africa Athletics Grand Prix Series, the SPAR Women’s Challenge, Super Rugby, as well as the Premier Soccer League.

While many people see events as only losing entrance fees and match-day income from merchandise and food sales, the impact is much larger. Cancelled sport events also leads to empty hotels, restaurants and transport providers in and around the sport venues. Other tourist attractions are also feeling the heat seeing that these attractions normally formed part of the sport traveller’s itinerary before or after the sport event. Consequently, major players in the sport supply chain (e.g. teams, sponsors, hotels, airlines and transport operators, broadcasters) have suffered immeasurable damages. In addition, related industries (e.g. travel agents, event planners) that depend either directly or indirectly on sport have suspended or closed their operations. Early indications mean that many of these businesses have closed or will likely never reopen again. As such, there was a need for bailout packages and seeking alternatives for the sports tourism sector to recover from the shock. It is predicated that the pandemic will result in an enduring shift in the sport tourism industry.

The cancellation of sporting activities led to losses for the individual teams, broadcasters and sponsors, leaving most of them in financial distress. From an athlete’s perspective, the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in the loss of income, as most sporting clubs significantly cut salaries, with some reducing salaries by as much as 70%. The athletes also faced a major battle to remain fit during the period of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Nomad Africa: What are the prospects for the sector in general likely to be?

Dr Esmarie Myburgh: Recovery for the sport tourism sector will be slow and most likely this sector along with other tourism sectors will only recover by 2030.

The cancelation and postponement of events is no longer a viable option. The main priority for this sector now is to start with this long recovery process, by taking measures that ensure that sport events continue This can be done in several ways: (1) Continuing with the use of social distancing and strict hygiene practices. (2) Continuing with only the sport participants and a limited number of spectators, especially with team’s sport in South Africa such as soccer, rugby and cricket (3) Individual participant sport events need to start taking place by either limiting the number of participants or working methods to ensure social distancing such as scattered starts, dividing the event into smaller categories etc. The next big test for South Africa is the British & Irish Lions series in July-August 2021, where some 30,000 fans, at a minimum, are expected to travel from the United Kingdom and other parts of the world. How South Africa manages this event will be a good indication of South Africa’s readiness to start recovering from this crisis.

It is predicted that there will also be stronger growth in other sport tourism sub-sectors such as hiking and trail running, seeing that people will most likely want to choose an event that takes place in a natural environment and has smaller crowds. There will also be an increase in small-scale sport events, which are locally organized to stimulate local and regional economic development. These events could create substantial amounts of revenue for the surrounding communities in which the event is located. This is ideal, as some destinations are unable to host large-scale sporting events because of constraints such as capacity. However, such destinations aim to organize smaller non-elite sport tourism events number of smaller events that is usually based on the amateur sport will provide wider exposure and an improved image of the host city, which will help increase tourist revenue.

The cancellation of sporting activities led to losses for the individual teams, broadcasters and sponsors, leaving most of them in financial distress.

Technology advances has also led to sport events creating new race formats. This is crucial in the recovery of this sector as it will not only lead to participants staying engaged with the event, but also leads to new sponsorships which would not normally be associated with these events. Technologies such as virtual races with the use of Apps such as Strava and smart watches also holds many future prospects for event organizers to not only host an event with the participants at the event, but also host pre and post-events that participants can sign up for even if they do not travel to the event itself. Ultimately sport events have become more accessible to a wider market.

Sport event managements will also improve on their crisis and disaster management teams in order to ensure that they are more resilient in the future.

Nomad Africa: What do you think can be done to allow a lifeline for the sports tourism sector?

Dr Esmarie Myburgh: A crisis such as the Covid-19 pandemic occurs in a continual or periodic manner making it difficult to predict. These types of crisis are normally associated with negative effects, but can also result in positive effects such as innovation.

In order for the sport tourism sector to recover it should be a multi-stakeholder approach that involves the following:

Policy-makers should work with industry stakeholders both in the sport and tourism industries in forecasting different scenarios for the sport tourism sector in order to implement plans/strategies that can mitigate the effect of the pandemic and lockdown regulations.

In a recent article one of my colleagues at the NWU Tourism Research Unit TREES (Tourism research in Economics, Environs and Society) Tafadzwa Matiza wrote about the Post-COVID-19 crisis travel behaviour: towards mitigating the effects of perceived risk. Many of the suggestions made by him is also relevant to the sport tourism sector and includes:

(1) The South African Government can assist in providing sport tourism entities with a financial stimulus packages, waving taxes, providing subsides and low rate loans. The Department of Tourism is also responsible for rebuilding tourist confidence this can be done by hosting sporting events that adhere to all Covid-protocols, but stills provides a memorable experience for spectators and fans. South Africa must be seen as a safe and desirable sport tourism destination before sport tourists will return.

(2) It is important that through marketing and the media profile of South Africa we create a positive image via social media sites, official websites, news documentaries. This image should portray how South African sport events are adapting and innovating in order to ensure the health and safety of both participants and spectators. The sports events’ organizers, like every other business in tourism and cognate industries, will have to provide evidence of the implementation of satisfactory health and safety measures to convince customers to come back again.

(3) Domestic sport tourism is vital for short term recovery of the sport tourism sector. Sporting events should focus on getting local participants and spectators to travel between provinces in order to participate and spectate sport events.

In the future it is imperative that the industry puts in place and emergency fund to survive similar periods imposed by external factors.

Nomad Africa: What are the likely concerns to arise from delayed return of fans to sports events in South Africa?

Dr Esmarie Myburgh: Currently in South Africa most sport events continued without spectators seeing that sport events are seen as mass transmission gatherings, because of over-crowding. There are however many challenges associated with hosting events without spectators these include:

(1) It can have a psychological effect on players especially in teams’ sports seeing that their social support platform at events have been removed out of the equation.

(2) It can have long-term devastating effects on South Africa as tourism destination seeing that many families travel with participants to South Africa to support them while participating in events (e.g. Comrades marathon). The postponement, cancellation and bans on spectators can lead to negative future travel behaviour. Such as deciding to rather postpone all travel plans to South Africa, re-evaluating their event and destination choice and consequently choosing to rather partake in sport events within own or other countries.

(3) This can also lead to sport events and sport teams losing sponsorships, seeing that sponsors feel they do not get value from events that have no fans present.

(4) No spectators also mean a large reduction of income earned by sport events which has a spiral effect on the sport tourism supply-chain.

Nomad Africa: In monetary terms how much is the sports tourism industry worth in South Africa?

Dr Esmarie Myburgh: The Department of Tourism reported in 2014 that the sport tourism sector was worth between R 1, 973 to R 6, 056 trillion. This was the estimate given by Gillian Saunders, Head of Advisory Services for Grant Thornton. In a recent study done by (Perold, Hattingh, Bama, Bergh and Bruwer, 2020) the authors looked at the impact of annual sport events hosted in South Africa, some of the findings include:

  • The Two Oceans marathon injects R672 million into the Cape Town and Western Cape economy annually.
  • The Absa Cape Epic contributes more than R500 million to the South African economy on an annual basis.
  • The Athletics South Africa Athletics Grand Prix Series conservatively generates R40 million, annually, to the South African economy.
  • The Spar Women’s Challenge is the biggest female sporting event worldwide; attracting approximately 150 000 runners across South Africa.
  • Ironman events hosted in 2018 in South Africa respectively contributed US$ 2.63 million on production activities in Port Elizabeth (full Ironman) and a total impact of US$ 3.16 million in Durban (half Ironman) (TREES, 2018).

Nomad Africa: How do you compare the level of sports tourism in South Africa versus other countries on the continent like Nigeria and Kenya?

Dr Esmarie Myburgh: Compared to South Africa sports tourism in Kenya isn’t as highly publicised as a travel package, whereas sport tourism in Nigeria is challenging due to security infrastructure, corruption, sport management challenges and lack of experience in bidding and hosting mega-events.

Nomad Africa: What percentage of the tourism industry does sports based tourism constitute in South Africa?

The UNWTO underscore the major opportunities presented by sport-related tourism for both mature and emerging destinations, and further acknowledge ‘international sports tourism as being one of the primary reasons for this global growth in tourism’. Sport tourists include visitors to a destination for the primary purpose of participating, viewing or celebrating sport. Unfortunately, there is a lack of statistics in South Africa to show what percentage of the sports based tourism contributes to the overall tourism industry.

Nomad Africa: In general, how successful has sports based tourism been in South Africa??

Dr Esmarie Myburgh: Sport tourism can be seen as one of the fastest growing segments within the South African tourism industry. It is also seen as a viable segment that can help South Africa achieve its tourism goals of reaching 21 million annual international arrivals in the country by 2030 as proposed by President Cyril Ramaphosa.

In 2012 South Africa was named the World’s leading sports tourism destination at the World Travel Awards. South Africa has proven that it can host major events. The country also has a significant infrastructure footprint, world-class facilities, a fantastic climate, diverse landscapes and friendly people. Mega events such as the 2010 Fifa World Cup was the catalyst for social and infrastructure development, while annual sporting events ensure a sustainable flow of tourism to different locations and venues across the country. Sport events are also ideal to curb seasonality and spread tourism to locations which are not normally viewed as tourism

Sport tourism has also become an integral part of promoting and branding South Africa to a global market. With messages such as “Participate in the oldest marathon in the world”, “Take part in the most beautiful race in the world” etc.

Nomad Africa: What have been the challenges like in developing sports tourism as sustainable tourism in South Africa in general?

Dr Esmarie Myburgh: The FIFA World Cup was a major boost for South Africa’s international reputation, but rather than focusing solely on bidding and hosting similar mega events it becomes more important that South Africa hosts ongoing sustainable events across all sporting codes. Annual events across different sporting codes will lead to tourism growth and a larger economic impact.

One of the major challenges within the sport tourism sector was the strategy imposed by the government to focus most of the governments funding and efforts on bidding for mega-events such as the Commonwealth games. Less attention has been given to annual events that have been found to be more sustainable, less expensive and normally these events attract a niche market of loyal participants/spectators both locally and internationally.

Another challenge is that less attention has given to the domestic sport tourism market and motivating local participants and spectators to travel to sport events across the country.

A major challenge for South Africa to become a sustainable sport tourism destination is South Africa’s image of being a country which is unsafe and having constant political instability.

Sporting events that attract a large number of participants and spectators (e.g. Cape Town Cycle Tour) have also tried to decrease its environmental impact, especially after the water crisis in Cape Town. This was done by a variety of initiatives such as recycling, banning plastic from the race etc.

Nomad Africa: Which sports have contributed the most to the broader tourism economy of South Africa and why?

Dr Esmarie Myburgh: In South Africa, rugby and football were the greatest loser’s sports wise, during the COVID-19 outbreak. In 2018, South Africa Rugby earned R714 million in broadcast rights, sponsorships of R388 million and R100million in gate revenue (Ray 2020). All this revenue, and potentially more, stood to be lost because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Technically, the rugby board was in breach of its contracts with broadcasters for not supplying content during the lockdown and also for not giving its sponsors value for money.

In South Africa, rugby and football were the greatest loser’s sports wise, during the COVID-19 outbreak.

Endurance sport has burst into growth around the world is the past 10 years. South Africa is possibly the world’s toughest endurance sport destination and attracts thousands of athletes of different ages and abilities in order to compete in some of the biggest races in the world. The country hosts a number of endurance events that fall into different categories. The first category refers to “On foot”. There are two world-renowned ultra-marathons in this category, namely the Comrades Marathon and the Two Oceans Marathon. The second category is, “On wheels”. South Africa hosts the world’s largest individually timed cycling event, the Cape Town Cycle Tour and also the 94.7 Cycle Challenge hosted in Johannesburg. The two larger mountain biking races, the Cape Epic as well as Sani2C also take place in this category. Both events attract large numbers of international participants. The last category is “On and in water”. This category includes three prominent canoe marathons, which include the Dusi, Fish and Berg River canoe-marathons. The Midmar Mile is also in this category as it is the world’s largest open water swimming event, held over two days in Pietermaritzburg

Nomad Africa: To what extent has sports based tourism contributed to South Africa’s tourism growth and dynamism?

Dr Esmarie Myburgh: Sports participation as motivation to travel to South Africa is rapidly increasing. Sport events, such as the Comrades Marathon, 94.7 Cycle Challenge, The Cape Epic, The Durban July and Billabong Pro Surfing Championship are important tourism activities and are catalysts for increasing visitation to the South African destinations. Sport tourism events, such as the events mentioned, attract a broad range of national and international attendees. These type of sport events can also lead to increased spending by participants and spectators on accommodation, food and other recreational activities. Sport events can lead to increased income, job opportunities and enhance the status of under-represented cities and countries.

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Source: Nomad Africa Magazine