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Here come the soccer tourists

Up to 450 000 chanting soccer fans will be shoehorned through South Africa’s airports during the 2010 World Cup Soccer tournament, creating a logistical nightmare for the airports, immigration officials and police.

Hotels and bars around the country will do a roaring trade as local and international soccer fans take over much of the country for four weeks.

Tourists looking for a piece of African tranquillity are likely to plan their trips on either side of the event so as to avoid the crush.

Estimates vary on the number of foreign visitors expected for the 2010 soccer jamboree. South African Tourism forecasts about 445 000, while Grant Thornton’s tourism and leisure unit expects closer to 300 000. This compares with the current 210 000 monthly visitors to South Africa.

“There will be a fairly large displacement of normal tourism arrivals during the World Cup,” says Gillian Saunders, head of Grant Thornton’s tourism and leisure unit. “People who might otherwise come to South Africa for leisure or business travel will try to avoid the rush during the World Cup.”

Allowing for some displacement, South Africa may have to accommodate up to half a million visitors during the month of the tournament, a tall order in a country with 50 000 formal-sector hotel beds. The number of beds in the non-formal sector exceeds this figure, but smaller host cities such as Rustenburg and Nelspruit may have to look at alternative accommodation such as university and school residences, converted trains and camp sites.

Minister of Environmental Affairs and Tourism Marthinus van Schalkwyk said this week he expects 10-million foreign visitors to South Africa in 2010, a 43% increase on last year’s figure of seven million.

Germany expected about one million visitors for the 2006 World Cup, but the final figure was more than double this. Soccer fans from neighbouring countries poured over the border for the day, often to watch games on the giant screens erected in public squares across the country.

Given the distances and costs of travelling from Europe and South America, 2010 World Cup attendance in South Africa will be far lower. The number of visitors expected from elsewhere in Africa is something of a wild card, and depends on which African teams qualify.

Another concern is security, though Saunders points to the lack of incident around the World Summit on Sustainable Development, and previous cricket and rugby world cups, as evidence of South Africa’s ability to get its act together when it really counts. The police are already talking tough on crime, and want a relatively clean report card by the time the cameras train on the country in the run-up to 2010.

Economist Tony Twine of Econometrix says that, while the 2006 World Cup registered barely a blip on the German economic radar, 2010 will have a far more substantial impact on South Africa, given the relative sizes of the two economies. “I don’t think South Africans have really got their arms around what this could mean for the domestic economy. If we handle this correctly, then we can reach the government’s goal of 6% annual growth by 2010 on a sustainable basis. The two big constraints we face are skills and capital, and we may have to import both.”

David Shapiro of Sasfin, which launched a 2010 investment fund to capitalise on the event, says he is concerned that little of the promised public-sector investment leading up to 2010 has been spent. “We have to make this work, and we don’t have much time.”

Twine says the infrastructure upgrades required will become visible only in about 2009.

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Ciaran Ryan
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