International tourism experts are convinced that South Africa’s historic hosting of the Soccer World Cup in 2010 will provide a massive boost to the entire continent’s travel industry. Foreign tourists continue to shy away from visiting Africa, but it’s expected that at least 450,000 will visit South Africa for the greatest sporting spectacle in the world. Africa, though, continues to struggle against its image of being wracked with conflict, crime and disease. But the continent’s tourism sectors are hoping the Soccer World Cup will improve this reputation.
South Africa’s deputy sports minister, Gert Oosthuizen, says Africa is set to reap the rewards of his country’s “successful” hosting of the World Cup. According to him, work on all the stadiums being constructed and upgraded for the globe’s largest sporting event and other infrastructure development, such as transport network improvements, will be completed ahead of schedule.
“Everything is going very well so I think the major challenge is to just make sure that we stay on track and we keep focus on the ball, and we will be there, well in advance,” Oosthuizen maintains.
Lelei LeLaulu, a former United Nations official who now directs a non-profit organization advocating sustainable tourism, says South Africa’s Cup hosting represents the “single greatest opportunity” to boost tourist numbers to Africa in “living memory.” He’s certain that the country will not “miss the boat” in putting on an “excellent show” to prove to the world that Africa is about far more than hunger, political conflicts and disease, and will result in international travelers perceiving the continent as one of the best places to vacation.
“The Cup in South Africa is a great thing. South Africa – they’re carrying the flag not just for South Africa but for the continent as a whole…. I applaud the amazing work that they have done to prepare for what will probably be the best World Cup in memory,” LeLaulu enthuses.
Nichelle Gainey, the president of a U.S.-based company that develops sports infrastructure internationally, agrees that the South Africans have so far done a “great job” in making sure that the World Cup is an African event and not solely a South African venture.
“When Nelson Mandela took his historic oath as South Africa’s first democratic president, he vowed to establish a South Africa for Africa,” says Gainey, who’s also a member of South Africa’s World Cup Local Organizing Committee.
She adds that this attitude is reflected today in the country’s World Cup organizers, who are determined to involve the “whole of Africa” in the spectacle.
“When the president of FIFA (the world governing body of soccer), Sepp Blatter, announced that S.A. had won the right to host the 2010 event, it confirmed that S.A. had arrived in the international community; it also signaled that ‘Africa is ready for prime time.’”
Gainey is sure that whatever happens in South Africa in 2010 and the build-up to the event will “leave the legacy for the rest of Africa.”
World Cup 2010 ‘must invest in people’
Robert Boland, professor of sports management at New York University, has been studying “some of the travel and tourism legacies” of previous Soccer World Cups. He says he’s found that none of the previous events left much behind that could be considered “lasting.”
“Montevideo and Uruguay (former World Cup hosts) are (today) not key tourist destinations because of infrastructure left behind by the World Cup,” he states.
But South Africa’s Transport Minister, Jeff Radebe, says this time around, things will be different. He says his country will invest almost $16 billion in transport amenities ahead of the World Cup. Radebe says the amount includes funds for improvements to airports and roads, and the creation of new rail and bus systems.
He maintains that the money will transform South Africa’s notoriously unreliable transport system, and will leave a “legacy” after the tournament.
Radebe told a recent news conference, “We are driven by a desire to make sure that South Africa becomes a destination of choice for tourists and business.”
But, according to Boland, the only way to ensure that the 2010 World Cup in South Africa will be a “lasting” and not a “one-off” success with minimal benefits for Africa is if the organizers “invest in people” and not just infrastructure like huge stadiums, fancy airports and speedy trains.
One of the most important ways to invest in people, he says, is to emphasize the event’s potential to boost tourism to Africa “for decades after the World Cup is over.”
“People must be trained, providing them with skills so they can work in tourism and continue to gain income once the Cup is over and the stadiums are empty shells,” Boland says.
He’s certain that if the World Cup tourists have a good experience in South Africa, they’ll return to their homelands to tell their friends and family “what an absolutely fantastic time they had in Africa.”
This “word-of-mouth marketing,” he says, will encourage many other international travelers to visit the continent that’s up until now been largely ignored by foreign tourists.
“The ultimate goal I think for the World Cup in South Africa is to highlight the beauty of Africa, to highlight the opportunities there and to highlight the people there.”
The “immense” opportunity to market Africa presented by the World Cup in S.A., says Boland, will be “unsurpassed,” with the beauty of the continent flashing across millions of television screens across the planet.
World Cup organizer Nichelle Gainey says South Africa is on course to ensure that the event leaves a lasting legacy in terms of tourism promotion.
“South Africa has a program that they call the ‘Legacy Beyond 2010,’ which is an initiative that provides programs and opportunities for people who are looking to continue to do tourism in the country and to make sure that they have a stable base to do this,” she says. “Another thing is a global awareness campaign called ‘Go For Africa’. This’ll create also a long-lasting legacy that’s going to last way beyond 2010. Funds will be set aside to develop tourism initiatives in Africa way beyond 2010.”
‘Prophets of doom in for a surprise’
Lelei LeLaulu says the World Cup organizers must ensure that the millions of travelers expected in South Africa in 2010 don’t confine themselves to that country but are provided with “ample opportunity and incentives” to experience other African nations.
“Most of the people going to South Africa, this’ll be the first and probably only trip to Africa in their lifetime. Let’s give them the opportunity to see the rest of Africa,” LeLaulu stresses. “Other countries in Africa should take advantage of the Cup. Every other airline in Africa should be offering two-day stopovers at a very good price to go to or from South Africa for the Cup. It’s our greatest opportunity. Senegal, for example – only seven hours away from the U.S. – should be offering two-day stopovers filled with entertainment for American soccer fans who will be en route to the World Cup in South Africa – to and from.”
Lisa Delpy Neirotti, professor of sports management and tourism at George Washington University and author of about 30 publications about her field of expertise, says World Cup organizers must “immediately” begin pitching visits to other African countries to potential visitors to the event.
“Many people are going to be heading over to South Africa for the Cup. Let’s make sure that they have stopovers (in other African countries). Tourism people must work with their airlines to provide that at no extra cost. And then also make sure that these soccer tourists have a lot of entertainment at the stopover destinations,” advises Neirotti, who herself has attended a number of previous World Cups.
Gert Oosthuizen, the South African deputy sports minister, says his homeland is “not a selfish nation” and there’s nothing his compatriots would like better than to see Africa becoming the world’s premiere tourist destination as a result of the 2010 World Cup.
But Oosthuizen also says he’s tired of skeptics who are continually condemning “Africa’s World Cup” to failure. He has a message for the people he brands “prophets of doom.”
“You’re in for a surprise. The World Cup will be hosted in 2010 on a continent undergoing far-reaching changes and development. The sooner perhaps you take note of what’s happening on the continent of Africa, the better for yourself. You may find there are wonderful opportunities (in Africa) you are not unearthing because of this negative perception you have.”