Organizers of the upcoming football World Cup in South Africa are hoping the event will provide a boost to South Africa's economy and especially to its growing tourism industry. But at a recent tourism convention in Durban, some operators are expressing mixed expectations.
Football was on everybody's mind at this year's tourism convention in Durban, South Africa. Many of the exhibits featured football themes, such as this young player bouncing a ball on his head to the beat of an African drum.
The World Cup kicks off on June 11 and organizers expect the month-long tournament to boost South Africa's tourist arrivals to more than 10 million this year.
They also project that the hundreds of thousands of visiting fans will add nearly $2-billion to the economy and create thousands of new jobs.
Siyanda Mbonambi says bookings at his Syavaya Tours are up 45 percent during the Cup.
"A lot of people want to see the African culture, our South African culture," said Mbonambi. "That is one of our biggest requests. They want to see our wine lands. That is a very big one as well. They want to see Zulu dances."
Elizabeth Mukumba works for Shakaland which invites visitors to experience traditional Zulu culture and dance. She says the World Cup is helping to fight unemployment.
"It is good for South Africa because they have created jobs for those who did not have jobs," said Mukumba. "It is definitely good for us."
South Africa's neighbors are also hoping to cash in on some of the excitement. They hope fans will visit their tourist attractions between matches.
But some operators are less pleased. Loren Rutherford of Nomad Adventure Tours says higher air fares to South Africa have hurt her moderately-priced camping safaris.
"People who are traveling on a budget are not coming because they do not want to spend two times our tour price just on their flights," said Rutherford. "But also, people are a bit scared away by the soccer types that are coming out as well, I think."
The South African government has invested an estimated $12 billion during the past four years in infrastructure for the Cup. Critics say the money could have been better spent alleviating poverty.
The head of the South African Tourism marketing group, Thandiwe January-McClean, disagrees.
"This is a fantastic opportunity for us to bring more visitors to our country going into the future, and the World Cup has provided that," said January-McClean.
And Rutherford, like most tourism operators, believes the World Cup will help the economy in the long-term.
"It is good for Africa," added Rutherford. "I mean the more publicity that we can have about [South] Africa the better. Because the more people that understand that we have got fantastic infrastructure and that we are safe and that we are a beautiful country, the better. Tourism creates jobs and that is the key issue at the end of day."
Many people believe the World Cup will showcase South Africa in a once-in-a-lifetime way, and the new infrastructure is expected to help support the country's growing economy for years to come.