It’s a Saturday morning and professional, local and
recreation marathoners are running along the Masai
Mara plains with the hills and wildlife creating a
beautiful backdrop.
Among the athletes is Bob Boyle, an American from
California, who is in Kenya for the first time and
taking part in the Kenya Airways Masai Mara
Marathon.
Bob, an avid runner, decided to combine his first
holiday to Africa with his passion for running. Along
with his wife and another couple, they travelled to
Kenya a few days after the Westgate attack, and
opted to first explore the northern circuit before
landing at the Fairmont Masai Mara where they were
staying.
Wearing a lime green vest, Bob took his place at the
start line among some Kenyan renowned runners. He
finished the half marathon, 21 kilometres, at number
63.
“It’s a totally different experience to run by the
animals. To run side-by-side with some of the best
runners in the world, who kept passing me but I was
OK with it,” he said. “I got to combine my passion for
running and my first holiday in Africa to see the
beauty that Kenya offers.”
The marathon is one of the many in the country that
have become popular over the years, attracting
runners and spectators from across the country and
beyond.
The Safaricom Lewa, UAP Ndakaini and StanChart
Nairobi marathons are some of the annual events
that have gained popularity among Kenyans
attracting hundreds of people who donate the
proceeds to charity.
These marathons have become social events
boosting domestic tourism, with some international
visitors also participating annually.
Charity
“We support local tourism; we travel and see the
country and in the process, raise money for charity.
The greatest joy is that I make a difference in
someone’s life, as I do something I’m passionate
about,” says Joyce Nduku, an avid runner, who works
at Kemri.
Joyce, a mother of two boys, is part of the Urban
Swara running club. She took up running when she
turned 50 for fear of getting arthritis. Ten years later,
she has run in most marathons – both half and full –
across the country as well as the Chicago Marathon,
six years ago, and one in Cape Town two years ago.
For her 60th birthday, she is looking forward to
running one of the international elite marathons. The
club members pool resources to travel to the local
races.
But marathons are not the only sporting events
attracting such major crowds. Rugby, football and
motor sports are also gaining major attraction with
keen fans travelling across the country to cheer their
teams.
People are coming together and going on road trips
across the country to support their favourite teams,
in the process boosting domestic tourism.
The rise in prominence of the Safaricom Safari
Sevens rugby tournament and the continuous
success by the national team in the International
Rugby Board (IRB) Sevens circuit has seen the sport
gain popularity amongst Kenyans both locally and
abroad.
With events now being held outside Nairobi, fans are
taking road trips to Machakos, Nakuru, Kisumu and
as far as Uganda for the events.
Sports tourism has also meant booming business for
local businesses, especially accommodation and car
hire.
The Masaku Rugby Sevens held in Machakos in July
saw hoteliers and guest houses in the town record
booming business due to the influx of mostly young
sports enthusiasts especially from Nairobi.
The rugby fans who flocked to Kisumu in August,
some for the first time, for the Dala Sevens event
stretched the bed capacity in the town to its limits.
Players in the hospitality industry were happy saying
the event boosted the Western tourism circuit, which
records low numbers of visitors due to lack of
exposure.
Lake Victoria Tourism Association chief executive
Antony Ochieng’ said the Dala Sevens turnout was
remarkable, adding that it revealed the potential of
sports activities as an attraction for domestic and
international tourists to the western region.
The sea of fans wearing green shirts recently
travelled to Thika, from Nairobi, to cheer Gor Mahia
when the team played against Thika United. Football
fans in Kenya are willing to follow their teams across
the country, while rugby fans travel to Europe and
the US to cheer their favourite international teams.
Crowd pullers
The Safari Rally and other motoring sports have also
become major crowd pulling events, regardless of
their location.
The KCB Safari Rally held throughout the year in
different locations including Kajiado, Nyeri, Voi,
Nakuru, Kisumu and Mombasa have gained a keen
following of people who travel to see their favourite
drivers in thrilling action.
In the Kenya Motor Sport Foundation (KSMF) calendar
there is also the KQ East African Safari Classic, in
November, and the extreme adventure Rhino Charge
that pulls huge international and local crowds to
different remote parts of the country.
Because of this growing trend, the Kenya Tourism
Board (KTB) is now focusing on tapping in on the
potential of sports to grow both domestic and
international tourist numbers. The body charged with
marketing Kenya is looking at various sports but has
a keen eye on athletics, rugby and football.
In addition, it is developing a sports tourism strategy
that will look at the development of products that
can attract people, as well as engage counties to help
drive domestic travel.

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