OUTH AFRICA was yesterday tallying up a tourism windfall forecast to reach $1billion (about R7,6billion) as the World Cup entered the last stretch.
The Netherlands and Uruguay play their semifinal tonight in Cape Town, followed by Germany against Spain tomorrow in Durban.
About 700 premier tickets are left for each match, running at $600 (about R4600) each, according to Fifa.
But many South Africans were turning their attention past the final on Sunday in Johannesburg's Soccer City to try to measure the economic effect of the tourism boom during what is normally the country's low season.
Arrivals were up about 25percent compared to last June, meaning an extra 200000 foreign visitors came to the country, according to organisers.
Tourism Minister Marthinus van Schalkwyk said the country's marketing campaign in the months before the World Cup had also driven up arrivals in the first quarter, South Africa's most important tourism season.
More than 1,9million tourists visited from January to March, up nearly 21percent from the year before, he said, adding that the marketing benefits of the World Cup would be felt for years to come.
"The championship will be recorded in the history books as one of the best showcases ever for South Africa and Africa," he said.
"The overwhelming positive international coverage has surpassed even our most optimistic expectations.
"The goodwill that has been unlocked cannot be measured in monetary terms."
South Africa is priding itself on overcoming worries about its high crime rate and its lack of public transport, which critics had contended made the country unsuitable to host the World Cup.
With just days until the final, the tournament has gone off without major incident while sparking an outpouring of national unity that Archbishop Desmond Tutu has compared to the euphoria experienced at the fall of apartheid in 1994.
"You can feel it everywhere you go," Mike Lee, head of the World Future Society of South Africa, a think tank, said. "South Africa believes in itself again.
"The first legacy of the 2010 World Cup is that it is a historic bridge reconnecting us to the deep nation building and healing process of the new South Africa," Lee said.
The country looks on track to earn nearly R9billion from World Cup fans, private consultancy Grant Thornton said.
But initial forecasts of nearly half a million fans were way over the top, at least partly as a result of rosy expectations meeting a harsh economic reality after the global recession.
"Original estimates that 450000 fans would be descending on South Africa for the World Cup were a little misleading," South African Football Association travel agent Nazeer Camaroodien said.
"A figure somewhat in excess of 250000 now looks nearer the mark," he said.
Preparations for the closing show on Sunday remain a closely guarded secret, but the main question is whether former president Nelson Mandela will be there.
Mandela cancelled a planned appearance at the June 11 opening after his great-granddaughter Zenani Mandela was killed in a car accident.
The Nobel laureate turns 92 one week after the final and appears increasingly frail.
His foundation says no decision has been made yet on whether he will attend, and his schedule is prone to change at the last minute. - Sapa-AFP