Kenya will be hosting the World Rally Championship (WRC) for the next five years -every year until 2026, after the government of Kenya secured the hosting rights from the International Automobile Federation (FIA) and the WRC.
This was announced during the final day of the 2021 WRC Safari rally championship and after Kenya successfully hosted the event which took place between the 24th-27th June in Naivasha.
Kenya hosted the event after a 19-year break a major milestone and significant to the destination’s history. Drivers from around 15 countries from across Europe and Africa took part in the competition with French driver Sebastien Ogier navigated by Julien Ingrassa winning the overall competition after stiff competition from other competitors. Kenya was also represented well with Onkar Rai winning category 3 of the competition. Some of the other countries represented during the event are Great Britain, Belgium, Sweden, Italy, Spain, Poland and Uganda among others.
Tracing safari rally roots to Aberdare National Park
The Safari rally was born as the East African Coronation Rally in 1953 as a motoring event to commemorate the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II of England who had been on a safari holiday at Nyeri. Her stay was cut short by her father, King George VI’s death. Princess Elizabeth and her husband Prince Philip were at the Treetops Hotel located at the Aberdare Park- Nyeri during the night of February 5 and 6, 1952. She descended the forest floor as the new Queen of England.
When she visited for the second time, Queen Elizabeth enjoyed a game drive in Aberdares park sighting different attractions including waterfalls and caves. One of the caves was named after her- Queen’s cave and has today become a big attraction for visitors from the UK and other countries besides Karuru falls which is the second longest waterfall in Africa.
According to Cabinet Secretary for tourism and wildlife Najib Balala, the history around the Safari rally is significant to the Kenya and East Africa as well as the United Kingdom (UK) which is one of the key source markets for Kenya’s tourism. It is also a show of confidence on Kenya’s preparedness against covid-19 and the ability to host international events.
“Coming after the Magical Kenya Open (MKO) and Savannah Classic in March this year, this is yet another major show of confidence on the destination’s resilience and preparedness for global events. Though the event the world will see much of what Kenya has to offer especially for the Safari lovers. Tourists who have come from other parts of the world will be able to sample our hospitality and our local dishes,” says CS Balala.
The event attracted many travellers who visited the various venues hosting the event, from the Hells Gate National Park, Soysambu, Mt Longonot, Lake Elementaita with also other adjacent destinations like Lake Nakuru National Park attracting visitors.
The hospitality industry benefited hugely from this with most hotel being fully booked during the competition period. This presented a great boost to employment, in the Naivasha region and its environs.
Tourism players have reported positive impact of the rally on tourism and hospitality business, especially now when the country is looking to recover from the effects of Covid-19.”
The event was televised to an international audience of over 850 million viewers who followed the event in its 14 rounds with a total of 13,452 broadcast hours projected through the event.
Sports giving Kenya a global limelight
Kenya is growing into a globally recognised sporting destination with many events being held in the country in the last few years. Important to note is the fact that the first international events to be hosted in the destination during the Covid-19 era were sports competitions; the Magical Kenya Open, The Kenya Savanna Classic and now the WRC Safari rally. Later in the year, Kenya is expected to host the World Under 20 championship in August and the Magical Kenya Ladies open. The destination will also be well represented in the upcoming Tokyo Olympics later in July of 2021.
The 2021 WRC event which had been postponed in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic comes at a significant time when Kenya is looking forward to fully open for tourism and gives an opportunity for the world to see the preparedness against Covid- 19 as well as some of the best destinations Kenya has to offer.