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RECENT e-mail warnings from travel agents advising South Africans to "stay home" during the 2010 World Cup, from June 11 to July 11, because of overbooked hotels, unavailable car hire and impossible airports, are overstated.
This according to Gillian Saunders, director of strategic solutions at global audit, tax and specialist advisory services firm Grant Thornton South Africa.
"The e-mail communication is causing unnecessary panic. Visitors won't all be in South Africa in the same town all at once and, though there will be certain crunch peak periods, overall it shouldn't impact South Africans' daily schedules too dramatically," Saunders says.
Grant Thornton monitors on an ongoing basis the various important impacts that the 2010 Fifa World Cup will have on South Africa and its economy. The estimates indicate 483000 tourists (151000 from Africa) are expected to travel to South Africa for the World Cup, resulting in foreign spending of R8,5billion.
"It is interesting to note that in our highest tourism month of the year South Africa already hosts almost 870000 foreign tourists, so there's no doubt our nation and current tourism infrastructure can cope with the influx of additional visitors during the World Cup," Saunders says.
There certainly will be peak periods during the World Cup at host cities around South Africa, with large numbers of visitors impacting airports, car hire and hotel accommodation during scheduled games in these specific locations.
But concerned citizens should remember that in any centre there are only matches on some of the 31 days (from four to eight days, except Johannesburg with 15 days). Including Friday evenings, 25 matches are on weekends and a further 13 are in the evenings - so only 26 matches (40percent) are during working hours - over nine cities and 20 working days.
The peaks will be severe though. For example, at times when games are scheduled in the Gauteng region there is expected to be a peak bed demand of anything from 110000 to 185000.
"Though this will be just for a couple of days," says Saunders, "the Gauteng region has an estimated tourist bed supply of some 72000 and visitors will either stay elsewhere or use alternatives such as home-stays and university accommodation. The peak will also put pressure on airports and transport termini, roads, restaurants and accommodation."
But a high number of fans in our host cities is a good thing for tourism. When Germany hosted the 2006 World Cup football event, foreign overnight stays in host cities were 31percent higher than during the same period the previous year.
Grant Thornton warns South Africans to pay attention to crunch times at airports.
High international arrival congestion at airports can be expected to peak during pre-event arrivals, with approximately 190000 visitors predicted to be in the country by day three, i.e. by June 13.
Fans will be starting to trickle into the country 14 days before this date, and the arrivals are expected to peak at 19000 a day.
"Then, at the end of the group phase, around June 28 to 30, when group events are concluded and quarterfinals commence, we predict peak departures to reach about 17000 people daily," Saunders says.
Inter-city travel demands during the group phase will be huge and we can expect congestion at airports, particularly after games finish and after evening games as many fans travel back to base.
Road congestion is a given, but this too will depend on when host cities will feature key matches. The good news is that in most cases games have been planned out of peak traffic times, so that fans travelling to the matches should not affect regular South Africans on their way to work.
"The message is simple," Saunders says. "South Africans will need to deal with accommodation demand spikes, increased road congestion at times and arrival and departure peaks at airports.
"But the World Cup is a once-in-a-lifetime experience for our nation. We all need to look beyond the challenges, and start to focus on making our visitors feel welcome to ensure the World Cup counts as one of the best holidays these fans have ever had."