The 10th and final edition of the International Association of Athletics Federations World Under 18 Championships was a major boost to Kenya's profile in the global sporting arena. It was the largest IAAF track and field event to ever come to Africa, and the first in Kenya.
Though some nations opted not to participate, at least 800 young athletes from more than 100 nations, including an athlete refugee team, put on a spectacular show of sporting talent and spirit. Kenyans came out in large numbers—55,000 and 60,000 spectators on the last two days.
I must commend the peaceful and orderly manner of the spectators. This is critical for such events and attract global tourists.
The success was a big thumbs up to the Local Organising Committee, under the leadership of chairman, LtGen (Rtd) Jack Tuwei, CEO Mwangi Muthee and the patron, First Lady Margaret Kenyatta.
The LOC showed the world that Kenya can successfully pull off a global championship sporting event. Yes we can! It was also a clear show of the government's commitment to promoting youth sport.
The global visibility that the MagicalKenya brand was exposed to, and the increase in recognition that Kenya received during the five-day event, were huge. The event was aired live by 161 sports television networks around the world, and streamed in more than 160 countries on the IAAF YouTube and Facebook channels.
It is important that Kenya leverage the opportunity created from this positive media exposure and continue to market herself as a key sports tourism destination in Africa.
Sports tourism involves travel to a country either to watch a sporting event such as the World Cup, the Olympics, and internationally recognised professional sporting events such as tennis, rugby and golf.
It could also be to participate in a sporting activity such as running a marathon, kitesurfing, golf or skiing. Kenya offers a wide variety of second-tier tourism products, of which sporting events and active sport are key.
The annual Safaricom Safari Sevens and Barclays Kenya Open Golf tournaments are the two best-known sporting events in Kenya. Active sport lovers can, however, also enjoy activities such as fishing in the Indian Ocean, kitesurfing over the Indian Ocean, skydiving, playing golf on both sides of the Equator, whitewater rafting and running with our elite athletes in Iten or at the annual Standard Chartered and Safaricom Lewa marathons.
The benefits of sports tourism are tremendous. It is an investment in the tourism industry and has significant positive economic and socio-cultural impacts on the host destination. It creates exposure and enhances a favourable image for the destination.
It generates an increased rate of tourism growth through high hotel bed occupancy, busy restaurants and retail outlets, all of which support increased employment. It attracts high-yield visitors, especially families and repeat visitors.
It builds community relationships and increases community support for sport and sport events. Sport tourism strengthens national heritage, identity and community spirit as everyone joins together to promote the national culture. It provides a vehicle through which visitors can gain better knowledge of the culture of the local communities.
The Kenya Tourism Board, the national tourism marketing agency, will continue to work closely with the sports industry stakeholders and the private sector tourism stakeholders to support Kenya's bids to host other global sports events.
Following the stripping this year of Durban, South Africa's rights to host the 2022 Commonwealth Games, Kenya should seriously aim to be the first country in Africa to host the event: The 2026 Commonwealth Games.
But to get there we need to keep proving ourselves capable of running these important smaller sports events. Our continued promotion of active sports tourism activities will see the growth of new market segments, domestic travel and international tourist visitor arrival numbers.
Yes we can!
The writer is chairman of the Kenya Tourism Board