Events tourism as a growth opportunity for Africa

Introduction.

Within the context of tourism and the tourism system, events comprise a key element in both the origin area (i.e., events are an important motivator of tourism) as well as within the destination area (i.e., events feature prominently in the development and marketing plans of most destinations). Events are both animators of destination attractiveness but more fundamentally as key marketing propositions in the promotion of places given the increasingly global competitiveness to attract visitor spending. To use Leiper’s analogy of the tourism system, events have become a core element of the destination system where accommodation, attractions, transport and ancillary services have been utilised or specifically developed (e.g. the provision of infrastructure for mega events) to enhance the destination offer thereby expanding the tourism potential and capacity of destinations beyond a narrow focus on leisure-based tourism. However, despite the positive impact on local economies and residents’ quality of life, and the generally positive framework events are depicted in, event tourism has recently been the subject of concern in relation to quality of life and community resources.

The negative effects of events on local communities’ quality of life discussed by #sttachangemakers during the tweet chat are: over crowding, high crime, property damage, pollution, deterioration of natural, cultural or historical resources, and other various forms of discomfort experienced by residents or local businesses.

Due to the pressure events pose on local resources and their potential negative effects on (at least a part of) residents’ well-being and overall quality of life, it can be assumed that events can lead to “overtourism”, especially when they have proved to be successful along the years. By attracting a large number of participants from outside local communities, events can make destinations suffer the strain of tourism, the number of visitors being above the carrying capacity of the destination for the duration of the events.

Factors supporting development of events in Africa

According to #sttachangemakers, Africa has ample opportunities that can allow the events segment to boom considering brand Africa has been recognized globally due to its geographical attractiveness hence known to be the best safari destination making it possible to satisfy events tourists who mostly want their experiences to be integrated with wildlife and adventure experiences. The continent has also portrayed a lot of readiness to host mega sporting events like FIFA world cup and World Rally Championship which have been associated with great positive impact to various hosting destinations. For instance, South Africa’s economy recorded a 0.4% direct benefit to national economic growth which translated into 38 billion Rands during that year of hosting.

Africa is also rich in terms of culture and heritage hence many festivals and other cultural celebrations contribute immensely to the development and success of events segment in the continent. Festivals can be the best way of diversifying tourism in Africa with a focus of enriching the niche products which can boost the economy. The good international relations between various countries in brand Africa has also been a competitive edge.

Private  sector investments and sponsorships especially for sporting events e.g. rugby and football tournaments in Kenya has to a great extent contributed to the growth of domestic tourism. For the Kenyan case we have recently seen private enterprises like betting companies, Safaricom, and various media houses marketing sporting events, which consequently attract tourists. Political stability is also a crucial element while planning and even hosting events. Africa’s state of political stability is commendable except for a few countries which have been associated with tribal wars. This implies for the need to invest more in strategies that would further enhance tranquility in Africa.

Existence of many business opportunities in Africa has also been attributed to the growth of business tourism, which largely contributes to increased meetings, events, conferences, and exhibitions (MICE). However, much has to be done to tap into exhibitions space in Africa. Research shows that African continent controls only 2% of the exhibition space in the globe. This points out to the need for African countries to further exploit the benefits of exhibitions segment.

The growth of the emphasis on North –South and South-South collaborations models are also greatly supporting the events tourism in Africa.  Also the urge for diversification of tourism product outside from the traditional conventional products of tourism like wildlife and safari is also a factor influencing development of events tourism in Africa.

Environmental impacts of events tourism in Africa 

Events tourism just like any other form of tourism is associated with environmental impacts. Some mentioned by #sttachangemakers include; Mega events like the recent WRC brought a lot of negative environmental impacts than positive ones. Massive environmental damages were witnessed especially after the event; poor waste disposals, pollution and disturbances especially for wildlife within their natural set up. Given the large numbers of participants, events are commonly associated with significant quantities of litter and waste. At the end of each event, huge amounts of litter need to be picked up, sorted, and dealt with. The growing popularity of events tourism has contributed directly to the significant increase of litter and waste.

Energy usage during the preparations and delivery of mega events takes different forms be it from construction of venues and the energy consumed by spectators traveling to event venues and the entire energy used in running the events operations. Consequently, the practice of calculating the carbon footprint of an event is increasingly becoming common for those practicing eco-friendly events. This is a very useful exercise especially with the current quest of reducing greenhouse gas emissions.   

Many organizers have been slow to make events plastic free. Often, they use plastic water bottles as if they are exempted in the quest of sustainability. This implies the need for more campaigns on plastic free events. Hosting mega events is associated with carrying capacity issues leading to erosion, pollution on land, and air. England which recently hosted the Euros finals, was littered after the event in what was described as an environmental hungover. Considering these negative effects, event organizers, and public authorities should seek solutions to improve the event’s environmental impact, by promoting recycling and waste management. Last, but not least, event organisers should take a more responsible role in waste management, in terms of selective collection of waste. Collaborating with food and beverage sellers, as well as stimulating and imposing responsible littering behaviour amongst participants, are good options in this direction. Likewise, local businesses should endeavour to be more socially aware and responsible. Local businesses should balance profit-making activities with activities that benefit local community, developing businesses with a positive relationship to the local community in which they operate.

Important social considerations that will oversee inclusive events

Major events have the potential to have positive effects on the people and communities that interact with them. They have the power to mobilise large numbers of people and create meaningful impacts on their lives in a number of different ways. This might simply be the creation of an enjoyable or pleasurable experience for spectators or, at an advanced level, this might be the creation of an opportunity that positively changes people’s long-term behaviour.  It may also be the intangible contribution to the culture and heritage of the host destination.

Therefore, events hosting must be conducted sustainably, some of the crucial insights that should be given more weight if events hosting has to contribute to further inclusivity according to #sttachangemakers includes: Effective policies that focus on environmental issues have to be formulated. These policies must ensure suppliers and event organizers are held accountable for any negative impacts associated with their products and services. Currently, Africa has many event organizers since they find it cheap to hold events because they are not held accountable for many social and environmental impacts while their focus is only economics. This mindset must change, and such policies should also inform the development of a code of conduct that should guide responsible event hosting. New standards for equal opportunity in place in host communities or nationally, e.g., for disability, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and changes in public attitudes to minority represented groups, are necessary. These can positively impact the rights of communities in host areas and beyond. Looking back over time there are examples of where major events have been milestones in changing public perceptions, and ultimately the legal rights of citizens.

Perhaps it’s also time to consider giving emphasis to small scale events with value. This is particularly important with the reality of mega events being considered hostile to community interests e.g., evicting families to pave way for facility construction.

There is also a need to ensure equality in terms of infrastructural development across the countries. This will provide equal chances of events hosting hence abolishing the current traditions of only big cities hosting mega events. The devolution aspect presents a great opportunity of widening inclusion. If the concept can be utilized through distributing mega events to various counties, this will ultimately increase the trickle-down effects.

How to make events in Africa more unique and ensure maximization of benefits to the destinations

For events in Africa to attain competitive edge while they remain sustainable, adoption of sustainable development strategies in the entire organization of events is very vital. Such strategies must ensure that events care more for the environment while reducing negative impacts and this will ultimately contribute to good reputation for brand Africa, as an environmentally conscious destination. The entire process of events planning and hosting must be informed by environmental considerations and sustainable tourism principles entirely.

There is also a need for further enhanced cooperation among event organizers, associations, and interest groups to influence commitment and dedication toward attaining successful events while maximizing on value and benefits across generations. The continent should also work towards soliciting new mega events with an aim of populating its growing conference revenues. This can be done through further innovative collaborations for brand Africa.

Conclusion.

Events are high-value tourism attractions: they act as catalysts to change and image-makers for business (conventions, trade shows etc.) and leisure travel (sports events and cultural festivals etc.). The close links between major events and tourism are clear to see, which is why many cities, regions and countries have identified event tourism as a priority within long-term tourism strategies. Events tourism has potential for developing destinations across Africa; thus, events should be conducted with integrity and ensure that there is promotion of social, cultural, political, economic, and environmental awareness for creation of value. By adopting the strategy of sustainable development in the organization of events as well as care for the environment, negative impacts can be greatly reduced or even eliminated.

Summerized by; Nicholas Kipkorir and Sheila Omondi.