The Safari Rally has been the most iconic sporting event in Kenya since it began in honor of Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation in the 1950s. It was always a pleasure to watch young and old. It’s a sport loved by local and global rally enthusiasts. It is also attracting worldwide attention.
The story of the Safari Rally is important for Kenyans and East Africans as well as for the United Kingdom (UK), one of the most important source markets in Kenya. The then Princess Elizabeth and her husband Prince Philip stayed at the Treetops Hotel in Aberdares Park – Nyeri on the night of February 5th to 6th, 1952. She descended the forest floor as the new Queen of England. In 1953 the Safari Rally was started to mark her accession to the throne.
After a 19-year absence from the World Rally Championship calendar, the comeback is good news for rally enthusiasts and Kenya as a travel destination. However, many Kenyans may not be aware that the WRC comeback fulfills a political promise President Uhuru Kenyatta made in 2013 during his first term in office. With television broadcasting to over 850 million viewers, Kenya is once again in the global spotlight. Kenya’s tourism industry will reap much from this exposure.
The safari rally is also another opportunity for the destination to show our ability to host international mega-events even in the current Covid-19 situation. The fact that it is taking place in Kenya is a vote of confidence in our readiness against the pandemic. This shows that Kenya is safe and ready to accept international tourists who are guided by the Covid-19 protocols. The rally also gives people a chance to enjoy not only our wildlife heritage, but the country’s beautiful scenery as well.
Aside from the huge revenue that the rally will pump into the economy, the event will also be a huge boost to employment, especially in the hospitality industry in the Naivasha area, which is already characterized by activities of all kinds. Hotels and restaurants will reap the arrival of both local and international participants for the 4-day spectacle. The event will also expand the market for Kenyan products at home and abroad.
Sport in particular remains an integral part of our national identity. We have spawned international athletes over the years who have represented the country at major international sporting events. In addition to its previous successes, Kenya has proven time and again that it not only produces great sports icons, but can also successfully host international events. This was best demonstrated when we recently successfully hosted the Magical Kenya Open and the Kenya Savannah Classic, both of which are part of the European Tour.
Sporting events of such international stature have proven to be one of the best ways to reach our major tourist source markets. For this reason, as the Ministry of Tourism and Wildlife, we will continue to use these events to promote the destination brand and our tourism products. With the Safari Rally’s rich history and connection to the destination, we see this as yet another opportunity to reach these markets including Europe, Asia and America.
This is also part of our strategy to revitalize tourism, one of the sectors adversely affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. Unfortunately, the pandemic last year deprived us of the opportunity to present the travel destination.
The author is Cabinet Secretary for Tourism and Wildlife.