SA may struggle to find room for World Cup fans

A shortage of hotel rooms for British and Irish rugby fans has raised new fears that South Africa will be unable to accommodate the half million visitors expected for next year’s football World Cup.

Hotels in Durban, which hosted the first Test between South Africa and the British and Irish Lions, sold out weeks ago, forcing some supporters to take rooms two hours away or more. Many have opted for shortened weekend breaks during the Test series and one enterprising fan has even booked a one-day round trip.

More than 30 000 fans have travelled to South Africa for the Lions tour, but that figure will be dwarfed by the influx of football fans next summer.

Lack of accommodation remains one of the chief concerns for World Cup organisers, who have been forced to reserve hotel rooms in neighbouring countries.

Robyn Curnow, a South African journalist at CNN, tried to book early but struggled to find a hotel prior to Saturday’s game in Durban, which will also host World Cup matches. She wrote in the Star newspaper: ”If there are not enough beds for a one-off rugby Test match, just how will Durban cope with hosting some of the 500 000 visitors expected during the World Cup?”

With Lions tours of South Africa taking place only once every 12 years, supporters tend to plan well in advance. All seven rooms at the Essenwood Guest House, a five-star bed and breakfast, were booked out a year ago. Its owner, John Chance, said: ”Durban has been booked solid for the last month or six weeks. There’s no accommodation at all. But the city will manage for the World Cup, even if they have to fly people from Johannesburg for the day.”

Justin Hopwood, head of sales and marketing at the official Lions tour operator Mike Burton Group, said: ”My understanding is that Durban’s 10 000 bed nights are full. All surrounding hotels are full. Some people are on charter planes from Cape Town, leaving at 5.30am and coming back the same night. The airport is a red wave of people coming into Durban from all over.”

He added that demand is equally high for the second and third Tests in Pretoria and Johannesburg, but one official package client has bypassed the need for a hotel altogether. Mike Gale, a consultant from Petersfield in Hampshire, will celebrate his 50th birthday by flying into Johannesburg at 9am on the day of the final Test, taking a chauffeur-driven Mercedes to the stadium, then catching an evening flight back to London.

The recession appeared to have played a role, Hopwood said. ”Instead of 30 000 people going for two to three weeks at a time, people are going for three nights or six nights. Lots of people are going out for one Test match and flying back on a Sunday or Monday night.”

Next year will be the first time that Africa has hosted a World Cup or Olympics, and the 2010 tournament is likely to attract a higher percentage of last-minute travellers.

Fifa, world football’s governing body, estimates that 55 000 hotel rooms will be required, about 15,000 more than are currently available. Last year it was forced to accredit guest houses, private lodges and backpacker hostels to help make up the numbers. There are plans to bus fans into smaller host cities, such as Polokwane, from nearby game reserves.

Fifa’s accommodation agency has reserved thousands of rooms in neighbouring countries, including 4 000 on Mauritius, a holiday island that takes four-and-a-half hours to reach by air. Fifa claims this reflects a desire to integrate the entire Southern African region.

Four British rugby fans have been hijacked at gunpoint within hours of arriving in South Africa. Two sets of brothers — Michael and Peter Harriott, aged 57 and 58 respectively, and Simon and John Murphy, 57 and 52 — were followed by a gang after arriving at the airport in Johannesburg. The friends, all from Kent, had hired a car and were on their way to their hotel when four robbers jumped out of a black Mercedes brandishing guns.

Michael Harriott said the group were then beaten up before being forced to surrender their cash, wallets, watches and hire car to the bandits.

British Foreign Office travel advice warns UK citizens about the possibility of being followed on arrival from Johnannesburg’s OR Tambo airport. The violence comes despite assurances from South African police that travelling sports fans would not have to worry about lawlessness.

South Africa has tightened security during the Lions tour and the Fifa Confederations Cup tournament, also being played at the moment. Even so one of the international teams playing in the Confederations Cup has also been robbed.

The Egyptian team’s hotel was broken into during their match against Italy on Thursday evening and several thousand dollars were stolen. – guardian.co.uk

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