THE Econet Victoria Falls Marathon is not just about sport, health and fitness. But it has everything to do with other sectors of the economy that benefit from the annual event.
Indeed, Victoria Falls town and all the travel and tourism activities surrounding it always come alive whenever the rapidly growing international event comes to town.
This year has been no exception, with Victoria Falls abuzz with excitement ahead of the annual race on Sunday, 1 July.
The transport sector has been busy with both airlines and buses ferrying competitors, their families and sponsors to Victoria Falls. Hotels are fully booked with tour operators are making good business from local and foreign visitors engaging in various activities on offer in Zimbabwe’s prime tourist destination.
Econet Wireless Chief Operating Officer Fayaz King is pleased with the efforts being made by those who market the marathon and promote the activities that visitors can enjoy when they come to take part in the race.
“For me the most important part about the marathon what it does for the country and the spin-off effects,” King said, speaking from Victoria Falls ahead of the race.
“When the organizers and promoters of the event market the Econet Victoria Falls Marathon they don’t just market the race; they market all the other tourist activities that happen in this place.
“It’s a unique race – the only race that is run where you have one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World, and it’s also different in that it’s not a town race, a completely town race like most of the marathon races you see in the world today,’’ said King.
Kind said he believes that the Econet Victoria Falls Marathon is growing at an fast rate, as witnessed by this year’s figure expected to be approaching 4 000 athletes set to compete on Sunday.
At the close of registration at 16: 00 on Saturday, 529 had registered for the full marathon, 1 995 for the half marathon and 1 599 entered the fun run. For the recently introduced Steward Bank Relay Challenge, 59 teams entered.
“It’s growing at a phenomenal rate, I was there (at registration) and there is every indication that that it will be in excess of 3 500 plus athletes, and some of the races are already oversubscribed, so perhaps the organizers will probably need to look at the re-routing, as the marathon gets bigger and more and more popular,’’ King said.
Athletes participating at the event are from all around the world, with 40 nationalities represented, including runners from as far afield as Australia, and dozens from the SADC region.
King described Victoria Falls as a perfect venue for the Econet Victoria Falls Marathon because of its great hotel and tourist facilities.
“Victoria Falls is to me an excellent venue for the marathon because not only does it boost the local communities around here, but it also boosts the economy in this region. We are the flag bearers of the nation for this event, and we want to really put Zimbabwe back on the map and make sure people out there know this is a place to come to,’’ he said.
One the challenges facing the sponsors, organizers, tourism players and the City Fathers of Victoria Falls is how to accommodate the growing number of athletes and visitors each year, as the marathon grows.
“One of the biggest challenges now going forward is, how are you going to accommodate in excess of 3 000 athletes that will come here at the same time?
“The hotels right now are 100 percent booked, the lodges are fully booked, and a lot of the participants will actually try to come in as early as possible to acclimatize.
“Therefore there is going to be need for more rooms in Victoria Falls and that becomes an interesting phenomenon,” King surmised.
“It means as this marathon grows in strength and statue, the town itself and the facilities it has will also need to expand to accommodate it – and that growth and expansion is a good spin-off from the marathon,’’ King said.