Sports tourism is one of fastest growing sectors in the industry. While sporting events have always drawn in fans from far and wide, recently, there has been an increase in using these events to actively build the brand of a host destination.
An excellent example of this was the announcement of the Basketball Africa League first season, which was one of the biggest sports news stories before COVID hit. John Manyo-Plange, Vice President and Head of Strategy and Operations at Basketball Africa League, talks about how the NBA has been dedicated to increasing its engagement with the African continent since first opening an office in Johannesburg in 2010.
The League comprises 12 teams and is set to become the top tier elite club competition for the African continent. There was plenty of excitement around the launch of the league’s first season and it grabbed tourists’ attention from across the continent. Unfortunately, the season was just a week away from commencing before lockdown was implemented. It had to be postponed and is now scheduled to kick-off on 16 May 2021, with games taking place in Rwanda. It is already looking promising that the much-anticipated event will attract sports fans from across the continent.
“It’s true that fans follow their teams, but what we have noticed is that entertainment and tourism become intertwined with the game itself,” says Michael Sudarkasa, CEO at Africa Business Group.
After all, visitors who have travelled exclusively to attend a game or a match will have lots of free time before and after. The secret here is to guide these tourists in terms of what to do and what to see in order to fully appreciate the beauty and magic of the country and city in which they find themselves.
“We need to be promoting the destination and the extravaganza awaiting the tourist there. We must be generous with information surrounding accommodation, food-related experiences, entertainment, transportation, and safety. It is about putting on the best possible performance both on and off of the sports field,” he adds.
Taking the right approach to marketing
The reality is that most people, particularly those from the Western portions of the globe, are often surprised to discover the incredible diversity and experiences that Africa has to offer. Sports are playing a part in reframing the continent’s brand narrative and in shifting the Western gaze and expectations. In order to facilitate this shift, there needs to be a change in terms of how host countries promote sport.
“Instead of focusing on the short-term event, the focus should be on creating a long-term affinity towards the destination. That’s when you start to rope in the larger numbers,” says Autumn Marie, Founder and Managing Director at KGL FWD.
A clever way to do this is for a destination to commit to hosting a specific sporting event or festival on an annual basis. This allows for word to spread and for travellers to create expectations. While the first turnout might not be much to write home about, the second, third, and fourth event’s turnout is likely to increase substantially. If the destination is able to continue providing a worthwhile experience, travellers will keep coming back for more and will carry on encouraging their friends and relatives to do so, too.
“From a marketing perspective, leverage media platforms to highlight events while showcasing the host destination. It is also important to hire writers who have a strong connection to the destination that is being promoted,” comments Shea Peters, Lifestyle Journalist.
“The great news is that people want to come to Africa – they want to see the continent. Demonstrate commitment and give them a reason to travel and a reason to spend outside of the sporting event that they are dying to be a part of. They will come running,” she concludes.