Travel agents and tour operators have begun preparing for a huge deluge of enquires following the English football team’s qualification for the World Cup in South Africa.
South African tourist officials have now predicted that up to 100,000 England fans could flood into the country next summer, many more than were originally expected.
The England team missed out on Euro 2008 so fans and tour operators were denied big business with package deals to Portugal. Two years on, and England, under the reign of manager Fabio Capello have provided fans with a record-breaking eight wins from eight matches, the fastest ever qualification by England for a major competition.
England beat Croatia in a 5-1 demolition with a brace of goals each for Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard, followed by an easy tap in for Wayne Rooney.
“It was a great result and more importantly, a great performance,” scorer Rooney told the BBC after the game. Meanwhile travel companies were rolling out their World Cup offerings. Trips with Thomas Cook Sport, for example, will start at £2,499, with flights departing from London and Manchester.
Four travel agencies have been licensed in the UK to sell packages – Thomson Sport, Thomas Cook, Keith Prowse and BAC Sport. But England supporters planning trips to South Africa were yesterday warned to beware of websites claiming to offer travel and match tickets, even as some of the operators began to hike their prices to take account of the expected rush of business.
Travel organisation Abta has said some fans might book trips where promised tickets to the matches failed to materialise. “We’re saying that when you book you should do so with a company authorised by Fifa,” said the Abta spokesman Sean Tipton. “In the past we have had instances of people booking trips for major sporting events and then finding that their tickets did not materialise.”
But with demand for tickets sure to outstrip supply and organisers already warning of a possible shortage of hotel rooms, scores of black-market websites are set to try and cash in. Yesterday tickets for group matches were already going for €840 (£735), with guaranteed tickets to the final on 11 July offer for €3,495 (£3,000).
And Foreign Office (FO) travel advice warns of the dangers of crime in South Africa, particularly in parts of Johannesburg. On a more positive note, South Africa Tourism has revealed that the recent British Lions rugby tour contributed to a 56.5% year-on-year increase in tourist arrivals in June, with 41,000 Britons travelling south. It added that these figures were likely to “pale into insignificance” next year, with anything up to 100,000 English fans expected to travel to South Africa during the World Cup.