Does AFCON remain an avenue to promoting tourism on the continent?

The African cup of nations was first held in February 1957 in Khartoum, Sudan where Egypt defeated the hot nations in the final.
Cameroon's Vincent Aboubakar celebrates scoring the second of his two penalties in the victory over Burkina Faso in Yaoundé. Photograph: Mohamed Abd El Ghany/Reuters

The African cup of nations was first held in February 1957 in Khartoum, Sudan where Egypt defeated the hot nations in the final. The competition has served as a showcase for the talents of African players. The 33rd edition just ended and it brought the world’s attention on Cameroon.

Many people travelled to Cameroon to witness the matches. At the end of the tournament Senegal emerged the winner. Prior to this tournament, there were many clubs in Europe not happy releasing their players to honour the tournament. We all heard the Liverpool manager describing this tournament as a “little tournament”. Many people described his statement as unfortunate.

The good news is that all the big stars of Africa were present representing their country and it was indeed a great tournament except for the deaths which occurred. May their soul rest in peace. CAF will have to ensure such occurrences do not happen in the future. I read an article from the daily mail in UK where they highlighted these unfortunate issues as a dent on the tournament most especially the organisors taking the blame for similar past events.

Unfortunately, our beloved country being represented by the black stars did not do well. This must be the beginning to putting the right measures in place to ensuring the return to the happy days.  Senegal will receive $5 million while runners-up Egypt will get $2.75 million. There are also increases for the six other teams that qualified for the quarter final stage. As in previous years, teams that are knocked out before the quarter finals will not receive cash from CAF.

I thought this tournament will be an avenue to promoting the tourism of Cameroon to the world. I stand to be corrected because I didn’t see any ads promoting their tourism. AFCON must be an avenue not only to promoting our talents, and an avenue to also ensuring our tourists site are advertised to the whole of the continent. Intra Africa tourism is the future of tourism on the continent.

With international arrivals having dwindled drastically on the continent, a focus on intra Africa tourism has been seen as the way forward. Cote D’Ivoire is hosting the next edition and I hope they have started incorporating a serious marketing of their tourism as part of their plan. Promotion is key to attracting tourists to a destination and we need to do so. Some have compared the price money to what happens on the European continents and feel its inadequate. The fact is we can’t compare ourselves to them and we must be proud of what we receive.

Others have also argued that hosting and holding the event is not worth the investments.  This is premised on the fact that economists don’t see the economic benefits. I chance upon an article where the writer made some very interesting arguments which I want to highlight. It is estimated that Cameroon has invested no less than 760 million euros in the country’s sports infrastructure and in the development of other facilities prior to hosting the event.

The AFCON soccer tournament breathed some life back into businesses in Cameroon as some locals switched businesses. Many hoped that revenues from the tournament can revive their fortunes following losses incurred during the pandemic. The economic impact will be measured in the coming months and years. There is doubt that there will be some economic gain.

A new report on the economic impact of the world cup when Russia hosted it revealed the boost for the country’s GDP could amount to between 1.62 trillion rubles ($26 billion) and 1.92 trillion rubles ($30.8 billion) over the 10 years from 2013 through to 2023. Next year we live to see if the target has been achieved. That’s attributed to growing tourism plus large-scale spending on construction, plus later knock-on effects from those government investments. It even suggested the World Cup would encourage Russians to exercise more, so they take fewer sick days.

The report said the total spend on the tournament would be 683 billion rubles ($11 billion), though that doesn’t include some costly new infrastructure and stadiums which organisers say would have been built regardless. Around 220,000 jobs would have been created, the report said. Economic impact figures for earlier tournaments have been hotly disputed, given the difficulty of separating the World Cup from other economic factors.

The first reason is simply the opportunity cost of hosting a major sporting tournament. The money spent on new or upgraded infrastructure is likely to be more wisely used in long-term investments in critical areas of the economy. Large-scale construction is typically justified on the grounds that it will boost economic growth in the short term, and improved infrastructure will bring long-term gains to society.

Though this may be true – an increase in government spending should lead to a rise in Gross Domestic Product – the World Economic Forum’s Inclusive Growth and Development Report argues that focusing on inclusive growth is more important. This means spending to deliver both economic growth and broad-based, sustained improvements to living standards.

Unfortunately, sporting infrastructure is expensive to construct and run, takes up scarce and high-value real estate, and is often difficult to use with enough frequency to cover maintenance costs. A stadium is not really essential to the economic well-being of a median worker. So if tournaments are a convenient excuse to construct and improve tangential national infrastructure, why not derive equivalent benefits at a lower cost by eliminating stadia from the equation?

In his argument against hosting mega sporting events, economist Andrew Zimbalist lists examples of the white elephants left barely used in host cities once tournaments have ended. Before the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, low-income residents living in settlements near tournament sites were reportedly evicted in an attempt to improve the country’s image on the national stage, leading many to question whether the money would have been better spent on improving impoverished communities instead.

Brazil’s most expensive World Cup stadium is now a parking lot, and the country’s preparations for the World Cup cost an estimated $11-14 billion. The National Court of Auditors of Brazil concluded that public spending on the World Cup would be “enough money to pay the entire country’s annual Bolsa Familia [social welfare] bill twice over”. When measured against an expected economic impact of $3-13 billion, it’s hard to argue that taxpayers saw a fair return on their investment.

Major sporting events certainly attract thousands of sports fans. But they may disrupt established tourist flows and end up driving traffic away from popular sites and attractions. As to whether these tournaments boost overall tourist numbers, the evidence may point to the contrary.

They still argue that in both Beijing and London, year-on-year visits decreased in their Olympic years, in 2008 and 2012 respectively, while the UK’s most popular museum, the British Museum, saw 22% fewer visitors during the month that the games were held. The British government’s own evaluation after the Olympic Games concluded that “there was substantial displacement of regular visitors who were deterred by the potential for overcrowding, disruption and price rises”.

Even when tourism does increase, it doesn’t necessarily produce a pareto gain, because there is a spend associated with attracting visitors. Before the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, it was predicted that around 450,000 tourists would enter the country for the tournament. In the end, only two thirds showed up.

Despite the reduced numbers, visitor spend increased by almost a quarter, but at a cost of acquisition to the South African government of up to $13,000. For roughly the same amount, the country could have paid the wages of the entire working age population for a week. Indeed, it’s hard to determine where the money that tourists spend ends up.

Hotel prices rise during sell-out events, but wages of service workers do not necessarily go up by the same amount, meaning the returns to capital are likely greater than those to labour. Looking ahead to Russia, analysts anticipate that economic gains from hosting the 2018 World Cup will mainly benefit the tourist industry, but have described them as being so negligible that they are “equivalent to that of a statistical error”.

The Argument from an economic point of view may be right however, the multiplier effect of tourism remains the driving force to tourism development. Sport may be the starting point and can be very powerful. At the Winter Olympics, there was an opportunity for nations to put aside their differences and concentrate on friendly competition. We had a chance to recognize that we are all human beings, that we all belong to one big family and that we can participate in sport and simply enjoy ourselves. Sport is the bringer of peace.

No one is suggesting that sport can change everything. It would be naive to believe that, where there is war, sport arrives and suddenly there is peace, love and mutual understanding! To create change, many different components must be aligned, including governments, politicians, media and industry.

But sport can play a crucial role in helping create that alignment. The most famous example comes from South Africa after the fall of the apartheid regime, Nelson Mandela’s release from prison and his installation as president. At the 1995 Rugby World Cup, Mandela used sport as a vehicle to demonstrate how people from opposite ends of the political spectrum – many of whom had believed that violence was the only solution – could come together to support one national team, no matter the colour of their skin.

It was a monumental success, demonstrating what was possible using sport. It was without doubt a pivotal moment in the healing of the nation’s deep wounds, and something tangible Mandela could build upon as he worked on the difficult challenges of unifying South Africa. In a famous speech, he said: “Sport has the power to change the world. It has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does. It speaks to youth in a language they understand. Sport can create hope where once there was only despair. It is more powerful than government in breaking down racial barriers.”

I believe when the Senegalese players retuned home, the supporters on the street for once forgot their political differences. Both opposition and government supporters where jubilating together. That remains the power of AFCON and we need to use its benefit to promoting tourism on the continent.

Philip Gebu is a Tourism Lecturer. He is the C.E.O of FoReal Destinations Ltd, a Tourism Destinations Management and Marketing Company based in Ghana and with partners in many other countries. Please contact Philip with your comments and suggestions. Write to [email protected] / [email protected]. Visit our website at or call or WhatsApp +233(0)244295901/0264295901.Visit our social media sites Facebook, Twitter and Instagram: FoReal Destinations


Leave a Reply