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Sport tourism powers South Africa through global downturn

As anticipation reaches fever pitch ahead of the 2010 FIFA World Cup, the success of three mega sporting events hosted in South Africa over the past twelve months has given the country’s tourism sector a significant boost

Despite the global downturn, South Africa remains cautiously optimistic it is on track to hit its target of 10 million visitors next year. The FIFA World Cup 2010 will help boost visitor numbers from just over 9.5m in 2008 to top the 10 million mark by year end, according to tourism officials.

Visitors from regional markets helped the country record a 5.5% increase in arrivals last year compared to the year before. However, there was a 2.5% fall in foreign visitor numbers in the second half of the year. Numbers fell from almost half a million to 485,000 in the last six months of 2007 compared to the same period in 2008.

Three sporting events this year – the Indian Premier League (IPL), British Lions tour to South Africa and the Confederations Cup – have boosted arrivals figures and will be a boon to the South African industry during a time when the global industry is feeling the squeeze of continuing economic turbulence.

2009 was the year when South Africa cemented its reputation as one of the world’s leading sporting events destinations.


The last-minute relocation of the IPL due to the Indian national election was a considerable coup for the African nation, and its runaway success silenced the critics who had voiced concern over South Africa’s readiness to host events of this stature.

The tournament injected almost R2-billion ($258-million) into the South African economy with over 40,000 hotel rooms and 10,000 domestic flights booked. 

The British and Irish Lions tour in June and July contributed R1-billion ($128-million) to the South African economy, with R250-million ($32.2-million) in direct foreign exchange.
June’s 2009 FIFA Confederations Cup was the next opportunity to showcase South Africa’s readiness as well as rigorously testing, much of the 2010 FIFA World Cup infrastructure.
Almost 600,000 fans attended the two-week tournament which took place in four of the nine 2010 FIFA World Cup Host Cities.

According to Tourism Minister Marthinus van Schalkwyk, the success of the IPL, the Lions tour and the Confederations Cup, unlocked the potential for the 2010 FIFA World Cup to return South Africa to its pre-recession tourism high.

He said construction linked to the World Cup would contribute R50bn to the economy, while tourism would generate a further R15bn, with 3.5 million fans expected to attend the tournament.

Foreign arrivals would also receive a huge boost with 450,000 fans expected in the country next year.

He said: “The World Cup affords us a once-in-a-lifetime chance to showcase the best we have as a tourism destination.”

“Together with exposure to billions of television viewers, 2010 provides an unparalleled opportunity to enhance the brand awareness of SA as a premier tourist destination.”
Lebohang Mokhesi, country manager UK for South African Tourism, said there had been “unprecedented demand” for World Cup tickets and predicted that many South Africans would choose to holiday domestically this year.

Held concurrently with the 2010 FIFA World Cup, South Africa will play host to World Sport Destination Expo (WSDE) – the first ever exhibition dedicated to the $600 billion a year sport tourism industry.

As well as being the prime opportunity for the travel industry to cement future business with the industry’s top buyers, WSDE will act as a platform for South Africa to create a lasting legacy and capitalise on the world-wide exposure that the event will provide.

South Africa’s travel and tourism industry is expected to present a show of force at the international exhibition.  Citing the success of the 2006 FIFA World Cup to the German tourism industry, WSDE is positioned to generate years of follow-on tourists and deliver South Africa with future tourism growth.