Soccer and tourism
Johannesburg - Fancy world-class football in South Africa alongside a trip to the Victoria Falls or a Namib desert safari?
This is possible, according to FIFA 2010 organisers and regional countries that want Africa's first ever World Cup to spill over into South Africa's neighbours.
"The idea is that this soccer World Cup taking place in South Africa will be an African cup because it's the first one in Africa," said FIFA spokesperson Nicolas Maingot.
Local organisers have already contracted rooms in neighbouring countries in the hope of enticing some of the 450 000 fans expected to descend on South Africa for the tournament.
With several match stadiums within easy reach of southern Africa's multitude of pristine game reserves and untouched beaches, it is hoped that fans will add the area's tourism jewels to football itineraries.
"It is not unreasonable to think that some Europeans or Americans will stay in Botswana and will fly into the venue for the match," explained Adam Brown of MATCH South Africa, FIFA's official hospitality partner.
Rustenburg stadium, where some of the games will be played, is just 150km from Botswana. Mbombela stadium in Nelspruit lies just an hours drive from the Mozambican border.
And Namibia's sweeping desert dunes and wildlife safaris are also just a few hours by road to Cape Town.
"During the World Cup in 2006, people from the Netherlands went to Germany for the day. There is no difference," said Didi Moyle, president of the South African tourism committee.
FIFA has already secured some 4 000 rooms outside South Africa with 3 200 on the island of Mauritius with its famous beaches, which are a four-and-a-half hour flight from Johannesburg.
In addition, a few hundred rooms have also been secured in Namibia and Botswana.
A MATCH team was sent to Zambia and even Zimbabwe, still reeling in a protracted economic crisis, to investigate the possibility of accommodation near the country's top tourist spot, the Victoria Falls.
Attracting players and fans
Governments in neighbouring countries are also hoping to attract players and fans.
Mozambique has set up a inter-ministerial cabinet dedicated to the World Cup. The capital Maputo's airport is under full reconstruction and a national stadium is being built on the outskirts.
Authorities are also planning to simplify red tape at the border with South Africa.
In December, South Africa's department of Home Affairs announced that it will issue a special Event Visa to fans travelling to the country for the World Cup. The visa will be issued free of charge to visitors in 2010.
Zimbabwe, despite its challenges, is also seeking visitors. Tourism Minister Walter Mzembi visited Brazil in May to convince the football team to train in his country.
Overall, MATCH intends to secure 6 400 rooms outside South Africa: a drop in the ocean with the overall total of 55 000 beds needed.
A key issue for fans amid the current global downturn could be the cost faced with travelling to South Africa, a long-haul destination.
The minimum package from Europe is €1 500 to watch two matches on local soil without taking in neighbouring attractions, according to travel agents.
Despite the enthusiasm from neighbours and organisers, travel agencies admit they have received very few requests for bookings in South Africa's neighbouring countries.
A France-based tour operator said he would prefer to book his clients in South Africa, so that they can be closer to the games.
"The cost of a trip to South Africa from Europe is extremely high, so people will prefer to stay only in South Africa," said Jonathan Goos.
"I prefer putting my clients in the heart of the event," he added.