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Sports tourism is a serious business in South Africa


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Sports tourism is a serious business in South Africa

Moses Mabhida Stadium
Photo by Creamer Media

20th November 2023


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The sports industry in Africa is experiencing rapid growth, with the potential to generate jobs, improve public health, foster social inclusion and drive economic growth. According to Brookings Institute, the sports economy worldwide is estimated at 5% of GDP, but only 0.5 percent in Africa. If exploited, Africa's sports and creative industries can offer policymakers innovative solutions. Especially, as regards to job creation, and providing employment to the 15 million people entering the job market annually, for a continent with the youngest population in the world, with 70% of sub-Saharan Africa under the age of 30, such a high number of young people is an opportunity for the continent’s growth. There are many new business opportunities in sports industry for entrepreneurs can pursue, fueled by the transition to digital economies from broadcasting, tourism, infrastructure to sports betting.

Sport has always been an integral part of the South African culture, but now it is also becoming an increasingly important part of the economy. It has been estimated that the sports industry contributes approximately more than R50-billion to the South African economy annually, and it has a positive effect on the economy by creating employment, bringing new investments and boosting the sports tourism. Sports tourism refers to travel for sporting events to either participate in or observe; an example of sports tourism would be the match between Kaizer Chiefs and Orlando Pirates, Blue Bulls and Sharks or a Two Ocean marathon with spectators travelling far and wide with their teams just to attend their favorite’s matches.


For a cup final outside of Gauteng involving Kaizer Chiefs, Orlando Pirates or Mamelodi Sundowns thousands of fans follows their teams to Port Elizabeth, Durban, Polokwane, Mbombela or even as far as Cape Town. Each year the host cities rake in millions of rands in spending from people from out of town. A large portion of the spending is from hotels, restaurants, transport, ticket sales, and shopping due to the influx of tourists leading up to the week of the game, this is a big boost to local business owners.         

According to Future Market Insights, the demand for sports tourism in South Africa is forecast to increase at a robust 9% growth rate through 2032 and the total South African sports tourism market share represents 2% - 5% of the global sports tourism market. The country is home to a number of world-class golf courses and stadiums in different cities and they are constantly competing to host the national and international events, so they can bring thousands of participants and tourists to their cities. As tourism begins to recover from the Covid-19 pandemic, the provincial and local governments are trying their best to stimulate local economies by creating positive economic impact through hosting sporting events.


In September Gauteng premier Panyaza Lesufi has apologized after the province lost bid to host the 2023 MTN8 final between Orlando Pirates and Mamelodi Sundowns to Durban’s Moses Mabhida Stadium. “I am truly sorry Gauteng that we lost the bid to host the MTN8Final. We gave it our best, is just that some of our municipalities don’t value the importance of hosting football, It’s massive business especially for our hotels, taxi industry and retail stores, especially grocery stores and clothing stores, and food industry. Our malls get support as well,” Lesufi said on X formally known as Twitter.

Sports tourism is a rapidly growing sector of the travel and tourism industry. In fact, it is currently the fastest growing segment of the sports tourism market in South Africa. According to Gauteng Tourism, the inaugural Music & Lifestyle Expo hosted at the Sandton Convention Centre on Friday, Soweto Derby between Kaizer Chiefs and Orlando Pirates at the Soccer City on Saturday and the final leg of the African Football League between Mamelodi Sundowns and Moroccan Wydad AC at Loftus Stadium on Sunday attracted nearly 200,000 attendees, contributing an estimated R318-million to the provincial GDP and visitor economy in just three days.  

Sthembiso Dlamini, CEO of the Gauteng Tourism Authority, highlighted the province’s global appeal: “In front of FIFA and CAF presidents and a worldwide television audience, Gauteng demonstrated its status as a home of champions and a premier destination for hosting global events.” The province extends its gratitude to sports fans, security personnel, hospitality staff, broadcasting partners, and volunteers for making Gauteng an attractive business and leisure destination.

The KwaZulu-Natal province and the City of eThekwini knows very well how important it is to host such big events in their background, It has been hosting MTN8 Finals since 2020 and other entertainment events, these events attract thousands of fans from different provinces to their beautiful coastal city, who spend money on transport, accommodation, food and drinks in and around the stadiums, at Shisanyamas, restaurants, Lifestyle Lounges and other entertainment spots in the townships.

As South Africa celebrates its triumph in the Rugby World Cup 2023 and spectators are still excited, the city of Cape Town will be hosting the HSBC Sevens Rugby festival at the DHL Stadium on the 8-10 December 2023 which will attract spectators from all over the world, the festival is an annual platform for the world’s best sevens athletes to shine with 12 men’s and women’s teams sharing a global stage at the same location, It is anticipated that the event will attract between 80 000 and 100 000 spectators over the two day period, with a large majority of them spending money in the stadium and the surrounding areas. A portion of these spectators will also be booking flights and hotel rooms.

The Mayoral Committee Member for Safety and Security, Alderman JP Smith welcomes the hosting of the rugby festival in the city, commented that ” In the eight years it has been hosted in the Mother City, the tournament has attracted over 650 000 spectators. The event contributed over R3-billion in economic activities to Cape Town. Additionally, over 2 000 jobs were created for the last edition held in December 2022.

According to the study conducted by University of Western Cape for Western Cape government, sports contributed more than R8.8-billion to the Western Cape GDP annually since 2012; sport and recreation in the province are closely linked with sport and cultural events and the environment acts as pull-factor for tourism and the hospitality industry. Not forgetting the international cricket tests, Comrades and the Two Ocean marathon along with golf tours at the 420 golf courses in the country and with South Africa having the 12th most golf courses in the world.

Golf RSA CEO Grant Hepburn was quoted on the (Businesstech online) that golf contributes R49-billion to the economy-roughly 4% of GDP, whilst providing 40 000 jobs annually. While the obvious benefits from increased tourism are clear, it doesn’t take a genius to work out that sports tourism is pretty big business, is a major contributor to the country’s economy, providing employment and generating revenue for the government. Attracting high profile tournaments must be encouraged so they can bring an influx of visitors spending into our cities.

Written by Lazarus Tshwari, Media Analyst at Critical Media


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