The Toyota Desert Race proved once more at the weekend that it is a major crowd puller. The event which has been held in Jwaneng over the last three years attracted multitudes of spectators, both from locally and across borders who are fanatics of off-road racing. And yet once again it was Team Toyota that dominated with its drivers occupying all the first three spots. Leeroy Poulter, who has to himself close to three decades experience in motorsport and his co-driver Robert Howie, finished on pole position to become the 2016 champion with his colleague and the winner of the previous edition, Anthony Taylor coming second.Taylor, who won the championship last year, started 13 minutes after Poulter had left as a penalty for an offence committed on Saturday and this presented Poulter with an opportunity to grab the first spot. The third position was taken by Conrad Rautenbach, who completed the race in a time 6 hours 7 minutes.
The race, which has been taking place for more than three decades now, has grown in stature. With the location of the race – Jwaneng – being on the fringes of the Kalahari Desert, spectators have a choice to sample the flora and fauna the place has to offer. The race promoters, Botswana Tourism Organisation (BTO) who have been involved with the event since 2006, feel that the race has done a lot in advancing Botswana’s tourism credentials, particularly in an effort to boost the economy as many sectors ranging from transport to accommodation benefit during a weekend long event. BTO spokesperson said their partnership has brought many achievements in revenues generated during the event. Though the organisation is mainly tourism focused, their main reason for partnering with the event is to see as much revenue generated by the local companies and individuals.
Almost each and every business operating in the host town or village stands to benefit heavily from the event. Communications Manager at BTO Keitumetse Setlang said the event stands to diversify the economy. She said research has shown that a at least P8 million is generated during the race weekend as many sectors of the economy get to benefit in particular the host place such as Jwaneng in recent years. The race has been previously held in areas like Kumakwane. BTO has used the event to promote the country’s tourism and Setlang said when people come here from all over the world, it creates awareness about Botswana and its unique tourism industry.
BTO, which has in recent years sponsored several events to promote tourism, said events like the desert race are bringing many benefits into the country including skills development in event planning. Setlang said their role as the promoters of the event is to facilitate it and though big as it as the desert race could possibly be taken to another country. She said it is fortunate that it is currently being staged in Botswana. She said the government has done a lot in supporting the event through issuance of licenses which is dependent upon completion of the Environmental Impact Survey (EIA). With the race having been held in a number of places in the south of the country, Setlang said it is still early to tell if the next race would still be in Jwaneng or in another place because assessment in relation to the environment is yet to be made.