/ 6 December 2010

South African tourism’s big win

More than 309 000 foreign tourists arrived in South Africa for the World Cup, boosting the economy by a whopping R3,6-billion. This was announced on Monday at the launch of the results of a survey on the impact of the World Cup on tourism by the ministry of tourism and South African Tourism

Of these, 38% of visitors over the duration of the World Cup were from Africa, 24% from Europe, 13% from Central and South America and 11% from North America.

Most of the tourists hailed from United States (30 175), followed closely by Mozambique which, at 24 483, pipped even the United Kingdom, where 22 802 World Cup tourists were from.

Tourism minister Marthinus van Schalkwyk said the survey results show that two-thirds of the World Cup visitors rated the country as an extremely good host, and a further third rated the country as good.

“More than half the tourists who had attended other World Cup events in the past also felt that South Africa was a better host than other countries they had experienced,” he said.

Van Schalkwyk said South Africa was experiencing increased international positive exposure directly because of the World Cup — there was a 9% increase in perceptions of South Africa as a safe and secure travel destination.

Growth in tourism for September of this year was 12,9% compared to September of last year.

Conservative estimates
However, Gillian Saunders, director at auditing firm Grant Thornton, said government had taken a conservative approach when gathering its estimates and that the number of tourists who entered the country could in fact be much higher.

“It’s a very thorough analysis but this is not the full picture of what happened during the World Cup,” she said.

In its presentation on Monday, the department made it clear that it had counted only those people who had entered the country for the World Cup during June and July.

Saunders said that this excluded large groups of people, including:

  • an estimated 51 000 VIPs, including people from the Fifa family, who entered the country before June,
  • South Africans living overseas who had returned to South Africa for the World Cup using their South African passports,
  • “unspecified entrants,” including certain football teams and their entourages, who entered the country on charter jets landing at small airports such as Lanseria Airport, which were not included in the survey,” and
  • the media, many of whom arrived in May.

Another factor that the government says it did not include in its survey was the amount of money spent before a tourist arrived in the country. According to Saunders, one of the reasons this information may have been left out of the official calculations is because it is very difficult to gather the information from tour companies, which are often based overseas and reluctant to share their data.

“We think the numbers look correct for what they’re saying, and very thoroughly correct. They [government] haven’t made any assumptions,” she said. However, this meant that the numbers put forward were lower than actually experienced.

“Our overseas tourists spend a lot on prepaid accommodation, transport and even meals before they arrive,” said Saunders.

Excluding this “pre-spending,” the tourism department estimated that World Cup tourists spent an average of R11 800 compared with R9 500 on average spent by tourists over the same period in 2009.

Worth the effort
Saunders said that from a tourism point of view hosting the World Cup was “definitely worth it”. The direct benefits of the World Cup, which cost about R40-billion, include an 8% or 9% increase in GDP and a R20-billion gain in infrastructure such as ICT, policing systems, stadia and transport infrastructure, there was also an indirect benefit.

The increased positivity in global perceptions about the country would also provide a boost in tourism for the next three to five years, she said, adding that already “a lot of people are saying the season’s looking good despite the economic downturn”.

Van Schalkwyk said hosting the World Cup was “worth every cent, every ounce of energy and every minute of our time” and that South Africa is now seen as a good destination for conferences and conventions.

He added that government was in the final stages of putting together a National Conventions Bureau to assist organisations that want to host conferences or conventions in the country. More details on the bureau would be announced early next year.

Olympic hopes
Asked about the possibility of a South African city hosting the Olympic Games, Van Schalkwyk said that though there was as yet no government decision on the matter, it was “on the radar screens”.

“There’s a strong sentiment that it is something we should look at. We think we have the ability to do that but it’s very early in the process,” he said.

Van Schalkwyk said that, unlike the World Cup, the Olympics takes place in just one city and before a decision could be made on the matter, the state would have to figure out what the benefit of hosting such an event would be for the country as a whole.