world cup buzz

THE word is all over the place, from Soweto to Gugulethu to KwaMashu to Seshego to Siyabuswa and even the small towns and villages too.

The buzz word is 2010 and how one can benefit from converting two-bedroom homes into Bed and Breakfasts.

People are filled with hope. Small and big businesspeople all want to cash in on the soccer showcase.

At a macro level, multi-million stadiums are being built and others are being upgraded and money splurged on almost everything to do with 2010.

This upgrading of infrastructure, from hotels, B&Bs, roads, rail and air transport, bridges, airports, communication facilities, easing of travel restrictions by relaxing visa requirements and a battery of carefully designed travel packages are taking place in South Africa.

But South Africa is not the only country in the grip of this soccer, economic and tourism euphoria. Neighbouring countries are doing exactly the same. Owners of two-bedroomed houses in Maseru in Lesotho are exploring possibilities as are people in Mbare in Harare, Gaborone in Botswana, Maputo in Mozambique and Manzini in Swaziland. In the hope of benefitting from the soccer jamboree, neighbouring countries are also in a state of readiness to host visitors.

Realistically, countries that stand to benefit the most from this soccer feast are those closely sharing a border with South Africa, mainly Zimbabwe, Botswana, Namibia and Mozambique, and to a certain extent Lesotho and Swaziland. The big question is, what can they offer and are they ready?

South Africa is rich in mineral resources, has the biggest economy in Africa and is certainly the economic powerhouse of the region. Its tourist attractions include the famous Table Mountain in Cape Town, Kruger National Park - home to the Big 5 that fascinate visitors from abroad.

Each province has its own attractions. The country is accessible by air, road and sea. Its financial institutions are rated among the best in the world. Its accommodation, ranging from B&Bs in Soweto and other townships, to five-star hotels in Sandton and other leafy suburbs, is huge. As the host country, South Africa certainly stands to gain the most.

But competition for tourist dollars in neighbouring countries is certainly a reality.

Zimbabwe, for example, in October, through its Zimbabwean Tourism Authority, hosted a successful tourism indaba called Shanganai-Hlanganani that was linked to trade that attracted 44 deal makers, 17 international media houses and trade agreements estimated at billions were concluded.

The unity government of Robert Mugabe and Morgan Tswangirai has brought both economic and some measure of political stability to that country. This, coupled with the introduction of multi-currencies, has been a relief to the population and tourists. Its financial sector is also stabilising, with almost all the banks back on their feet, offering good financial services.

Though ZTA admits that its infrastructure, such as its airline, roads, accommodation and communications need serious recapitalisation if it wants to compete seriously for overseas currency come 2010, the mood seems to be that they are ready to host two or more visiting soccer teams.

A flight from Harare to Johannesburg takes about one and a half hours. Tourists will be able to fly to Harare, spend a day or two there and not both since as they can use the dollar or rand to pay for anything from accommodation at the Rainbow Towers, a cold beer at the Harare Sports Club or just chill at Hwange, Kariba Dam and the famous Victoria Falls.

And contrary to popular opinion, according to the ZTA, the Zimbabwean side of Victoria Falls is open for business. In fact, South African Airways has two daily flights there. And according to the authorities, South African travel agencies and South African Airways are responsible for 75percent of visitors to Victoria Falls.

There is also a connecting flight from Johannesburg to Harare, and then to Victoria Falls. So you see, that country is very ready to cash in on dollars, Euros, pounds and all other international currencies.

Mozambique, just like Zimbabwe, will certainly compete for foreign currency too. It is one hour by air from Johannesburg, is politically stable, has beautiful beaches, sea access, accommodation is top class, including the famous Polana Hotel, countless beach cottages and also a vibrant night life.

In fact, I was angry when I could not make a trip to that country with friends recently who returned with exciting accounts of their night-life experience in Maputo.

Botswana, with its economic and political stability, will also certainly attract many tourists as will Swaziland with its famous Reed Dance and Lesotho with its good reputation for peace and the famous Thaba-Busio Mountain. I was there not so long ago and as I climbed this mountain, where Swazi kings are buried, I felt proudly African.

So, is the promised wealth in the region in 2010 a reality or just a dream? I believe the southern tip of Africa is ready, willing and able.