Rugby Stirs Tourism In Kenya

The rise to prominence of the Tusker Safaris sevens rugby tournament has been gradual but has surpassed all expectations. Attracting the best teams in rugby world wide, the tournament held in March is now in the world championship series and is extremely competitive. The event has become an integral part of a series of events that is stirring sports tourism in Kenya.

The virgin Atlantic sponsored Kenya team has been making a good account of itself. Unlike their 15 a side counterparts who have not quite made it to the big league, the 7s a side have been posing a major threat to traditional rugby power houses like England, South Africa, Fiji, Australia, France and New Zealand.

Kenya is no longer an under dog in the 7s and it always threatens to dethrone opponents. The 7s has in the last few years gained so much popularity that all its matches are played with house full stands. Kenyan rugby fans are known to be amongst the most committed fans in any sport in Kenya.

But it is the worth of business generated by this tournament that is making hoteliers and tour operators yearn for more sports tourism in Kenya. With over 15 teams participating, most of them foreign, arrangements of transport and accommodation is lucrative business. Some tourists are now requesting their trips to concide with the tournament so as to enjoy the action packed extravaganza.

Sports officials who accompany the teams often take time to tour the tourist hot spots available in the country. Regionally, the safari seven is proving to be a popular crowd puller, with people travelling from the neighboring countries to watch the event.

In the last few years, sports tourism has been been gaining popularity with various disciplines holding international tournaments. Over the years, the only sports that attracted international participants were motor sports, with the famous safari rally gaining international acclaim since its inception in the 1950s.

But its withdrawal from the world championship series in the mid 1990s was a big blow to the sport. That has changed in the last couple of years though, with the introduction of the classic safari, an east African event that only allows vehicles manufactured in the 1970s. For most drivers, the event is a fun filled tour of east Africa, that relives memories of the same drivers during their competitive age in earlier years.

In rugby, a string of positive results against rugby powerhouses has seen the Kenya team climb up in rank to fifth in the world. This has ensured that the team remains in the series of the world tour, building up on its fast growing number of adoring fans worldwide. In the process, money has not been scarce with the team attracting sponsorship from East Africa’s biggest beer producers EABL and virgin Atlantic airlines.

With Kenyan economic gains set to continue with the formation of the new government coalition, the rise of sports tourism in Kenya is likely to become more prominent and is sure to include many more disciplines. Water sports, golf, rallying and even football are the likely disciplines likely to see an increase in visitors in the next few years.

Nicole Thomas

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