2010 Tourism Spotlight

There is little over one thousand days to go to until the World Cup Soccer tournament will be viewed by over one billion people across the globe. It will be the first world cup staged in a developing country, the fi

rst in Africa and the first time the tournament will be on the doorstop of arguably the sport’s most fanatic supporters.

South Africa seems to be on track. The Local Organising Committee spokesperson Tumi Makgabo recently briefed an Italian delegation on the country’s preparations and accomplishments thus far. FNB’s Soccer City will have a capacity of close to 100 000 and Durban and Cape Town stadiums will be able to hold 70,000 fans each. Billions of rands are being spent and South Africa’s biggest ever sporting event will showcase to the world what it is, or is not, capable of. The committee’s CEO Danny Jordaan cited the event as an opportunity to create a ‘lasting legacy not only for South Africa but for the continent.’ He said South Africa needed to make the country and the continent a world tourist destination and placed emphasis on changing popular perception of the continent.

The good news for Mr Jordaan is that whatever the outcome a lasting legacy is guaranteed. The bad news some say is that the legacy is precariously positioned between a phenomenal success and a dismal failure. And most agree that the ugly news is that Zimbabwe could rear its starving head during the campaign.

The event will shift the world’s focus to South Africa and the world’s most popular sport will showcase South African cities, its infrastructure and more importantly the country’s tourist attractions. The event will be the catalyst to the development of a first world tourism industry. And the industry’s coming of age will be sustainable by the hordes of visitors who will see live on television all the first world amenities they did not think existed in ‘deepest, darkest’ Africa. Previously ignorant first world citizens will have their eyes opened to a diverse destination and their future holidays well include the Rainbow Nation because they saw it on TV and if it can host their country’s soccer teams it must then be capable of handling their families.

On the flip side of the coin, crime could take its toll and transport systems or accommodation could reach capacity and jeopardise the event’s success by bursting at the seams. Guesthouses and bed and breakfasts are set to play the most important role in a world cup yet due to the lack of hotels and the general reply from the industry has been that they will not sacrifice their loyal clientele to charge exorbitant rates for a month and then lie empty. But there are committees furiously working on the numbers and hotel developers capitalising on the opportunities and all indications are that South Africa will be ready. So what about our Northern neighbour?

Long suffering Zimbabweans could also be looking forward to the event for other reasons. In 2001 the world watched with keen interest as thoughtless land invasions crippled its rich farming heritage but then 9/11 swung the cameras over to the Atlantic. And since then Zimbabwe has been swept under the carpet to be pulled out again when TV ratings need a boost but terrorism seems to be keeping the cameras rolling elsewhere. So perhaps Zimbabweans will see 2010 as their chance to finally get some air time. Mr Jordaan might want to start thinking about contracting a few good spin doctors from across the Atlantic.

Zimbabwe recently signed agreements with Zambia and Mozambique to share the spin offs of the World Cup through ‘border free’ tourism packages. The preparations from Zimbabwe need to surpass even those of South Africa when it comes to marketing the country. Due to the political unrest since 2000 there has been a negative image in the minds of tourists that is reinforced with each article on shortages, inflation, violence and corruption. If the Zimbabwean tourism authorities are to overcome this they have a great deal of work ahead of them. Hotel operators also need to catch up with the region’s technology. Online bookings and live availability on the web have become a standard feature for most South African establishments but the technological progress in Zimbabwe is hampered by media laws and strict foreign exchange controls.

While it evident that South Africa is on track Zimbabwe’s preparations need identifiable goals and the full support of government. 1000 days is all the country has to ready for the greatest tournament Africa has ever hosted and if they are not prepared they will lose out on an opportunity to show the world that they are still a world class destination. Whether or not government policy supports the Zimbabwe tourism industry remains to be seen. Judging from the torrid time hoteliers are having now securing fuel and basic supplies and also battling price controls which has seen 5 star hotels sell a night’s accommodation with full board below cost for as little as USD$20 one wonders if there will still be any hotels left in 2010.

Either way Zimbabwe will benefit from a much needed boost in tourism or some much needed press coverage. Zimbabwe has long been off the region’s to do list but with an event of this magnitude surely the country’s plight can no longer be ignored.

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