When, a couple of years ago, I started singing aloud my favorite number “sport is tourism. Tourism is sport. Let the sport and tourism industries in Africa exchange a hand of fellowship, knowing that sport, as we know it today, will not exist without travel and services in its value chain” – little did I know that an event that will prove me right will happen this fast. The African Senior Athletics Championship a.k.a Asaba 2018 has been all shades of awfulness and disappointment in the mildest of tones.
This is because many African countries view sport as sport. The dictionary defines sport as an activity involving physical exertion and skill in which an individual or team competes against another or others for ‘entertainment’. I define sport as the ‘convergence’ of talents – officials, fans/spectators, managers, coaches, doctors and other stakeholders – in a stipulated, pre-determined ‘destination’, for the purpose of competing for honor and/or prizes. Please underline the words ‘entertainment, ‘convergence and destination’. These are proofs that everywhere you turn in sport, you will find properties of tourism. FIFA and other serious world sports governing bodies understood this when they created match hospitality programme and started selling sales right/license to hospitality experts.
Sport in the 21st century is one of the excuses for travel and this dates back to the medieval era. The word tournament, when broken down, has two fine words that make it up – tour and ornament. This means that what sporting talents and other stakeholders do at sporting events adorns the tour – the act of leaving one’s abode for a destination.
This gives birth to the question: “why have many African countries failed to understand that it is foolhardy to start the bidding process – at the first place – for the hosting right of a sporting event, without carrying along sport hospitality experts along?”
It’s like a company that hosts management meetings every week, without the presence of the Corporate Communications Manager. When such has PR disaster on its hands, who swings to its defense? Who remedizes the bad press? Who advises on the likely public perception implication of the corporate decision about to be taken?
I know for the most part, travel/tourism business can be so much fun, it begins to look like a Cinderella profession to the layman. No sir. It’s not. It’s a profession where loose details must be firmed up, in order to help clients buy worthwhile experience with their monies. This is why many sports associations and local organizing committee most times think they can bundle up travel logistics handling with other aspect of sporting event organization.
Now, let’s visit and highlight the chaos that marred the opening of Asaba 2018.
Athletes (and of course, their management team) from more than 50 countries were to gather in Asaba. Some of their fans would have also flown down. LOC made a bid for an event without sports tourism expert to give projection of how much crowd the event will attract, which will bring hospitality services and its adequacy in Asaba, into the discussion. Little wonder, Asaba was overwhelmed.
Hundreds of athletes from over 12 countries were stranded at the airport in Lagos, because there was no connecting flight to the host city. Obviously the aviation industry wasn’t engaged ahead of time.
Athletes slept at Muritala Mohammed International Airport for 2 nights – a whole 2 nights? Ok. We all have had to take flights that make us spend a night in a city, before we catch the connecting flight to our real destination, but the airlines don’t make us spread wrappers on the floor and sleep like a pig on the concrete floors of an airport. Whatever happened to checking them into comfortable rooms, while they await a connecting flight, knowing there was already flight hiccups?
After getting a chartered flight, the airplane still couldn’t take off, because it was already dark and the airport in Asaba is unlit? Seriously? In Asaba, the capital of the state where a good chunk of the nation’s wealth comes from? In 2018, Nigeria still operates airports that aren’t lit at night? And Nigeria Air launches in December? Seriously???
Visitors had problems with their luggage, because craft they took couldn’t take all the luggage on the flight. Obviously, there were no LOC hired concierges on site. As they are boarding, the bags that couldn’t go on the plane are being loaded on a bus. Asaba from Lagos by road is less than 7hours. Latest by 5am the following morning, the athletes will have their bags and hardly would many people know about the slight hiccup in logistics.
Athletes had problems securing accommodation because that wasn’t contracted to a true hospitality consultant, who could have engaged the athletes ahead of time (before their arrival) and improvised in the case of shortage.
Journalists accreditation tags weren’t ready. No M.I.C.E expert on contract.
All glory to God, had there been any humans occupying the cars on which the water tank at the Stephen Keshi Stadium, horrific would have been the nicest adjective that qualifies Asaba 2018. It means that justice wasn’t done to infrastructural inspection.
Kindly carefully go through this list of logistics nightmares and tell me which one doesn’t fall within a travel professional’s purview or forte.
With all these opportunities in sports tourism being flushed down the drain; I hope we know that sports tourists spend more than other tourists. Take English Premier League for an example. “About 900,000 tourists are estimated to attend English Premier league football games every year. These tourists spend £785 per visitor compared to £583 spent by those engaged in other tourist activities” (Geoffrey Manyara 2018 – UN Economic Commissions For Africa). This means that Africa is missing out on significant financial rake-in, each time we trivialize sports tourism.
Prince Deji Ajomale-McWord is the President of African Sports Tourism Week and a principal partner at MPG Luxury Sports. Deji writes from Lagos. He can be reached on email@example.com