What did the 2010 SWC do for SA tourism?

Cape Town - As the 2014 Soccer World Cup in Brazil opens under a cloud of riots, strikes and traffic jams, South Africa reflects on how well it pulled off 2010. But was it a game changer for South African tourism? News24 investigates.

Last year, sports minister Fikile Mbalula said: “There can be no argument that the successful presentation of this event was an ‘image coup’ for the entire continent.”

Indeed, the 2010 World Cup was around 15 times the size of the Rugby World Cup hosted by South Africa in 1995, and it was so successful that by the end of the group stages, the FIFA secretary general Jerome Valcke joked that it would become “Plan B” for all future tournaments.

But as Mbalula admitted, one of its “intangible” legacies would be how global perceptions about South Africa have shifted. How can we tell if the World Cup helped boost tourism?

Legacy in numbers

This much we do know: the government predicted that the World Cup would bring in 450 000 international tourists. The actual figure was a lot less, at 309 554 tourists during June and July 2010. But 92% of them said they would recommend South Africa as a tourist destination, and 96% said they would visit again, according to StatsSA.

And barring 2011 - when tourism numbers dropped off the high generated by the World Cup - the numbers are encouraging.

Overseas visitors increased by 15.12% in 2011/12 and by 5.76% in 2012/13. In fact, latest official statistics show that in December 2013 alone, the number of tourists visiting South Africa reached a record high of nearly one million.

Critics point out that the majority of these tourists are from Africa, and are not the high-spending American or European tourists that might do more for the economy.

However, Gillian Saunders, principal of the Tourism, Hospitality and Leisure department and head of Advisory Services at Grant Thornton, said African arrivals were not to be scoffed at.

In 2013, African land border arrivals grew 3% but air arrivals were up by 11.5%, she said. These people will be “very well heeled”, offering “good growth from emerging, aspirational consumers”.

There has been growth in the industry too, according to South African Tourism.

A spokesman said: “While it’s difficult to say whether tourism jobs created specifically through the 2010 World Cup hosting have endured, the truth is that there is a steady upward trajectory in the number of tourism jobs in South Africa”.

Official statistics show that in 2012, tourism was responsible for 617 287 jobs in the country – a huge jump from the 60 934 jobs that existed five years ago.

Tourism contributed R93.3bn - or 3.1% - to the national gross domestic product (GDP) in 2012.

Capitalising on success

But it’s not all good news. As South African Tourism itself points out, when a nation hosts the biggest global sports spectacular it “needs to step up and deliver against highest global expectations”, adding that the World Cup “gave South Africa every reason to up skill its travel and tourism offering”.

Has that happened since 2010? While the World Economic Forum (WEF)’s Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Index ranked South Africa 64 out of 140 countries in the world last year, we slid down the list to 117th for safety and security and were placed at a pitiful 135 for government spending on the tourist industry.

Saunders said: “The problem is we don’t put our money where our mouth is.”

The state’s budget for South African Tourism for 2014/15 was only bumped up by 2.6% - which if you take into account inflation and the depreciation of the Rand, means SAT would actually have less budget to spend in foreign currency terms than before, according to Saunders’ colleague Martin Jansen van Vuuren, director of Grant Thornton Public Sector Advisory.

Saunders said that we should take our lead from countries such as Thailand and Australia, which spend far more money on attracting long-haul tourists – something of a battle in these recent recessionary years.

South African Tourism said that the traditional markets have been slow to recover from the recession, but “they are recovering, nevertheless”.

A spokesperson also noted that in the years since the World Cup, there has been a steady, “if more modest”, arrivals increase from the African markets and emerging markets of China, India and more recently, Brazil itself.

Saunders meanwhile believes that South Africa’s domestic tourist market harbours the “untapped resource” of the black middle.

She said the government is “not quite getting it right” for this market, but acknowledged that it is trying – indeed the state increased the domestic tourism budget by 25.3% in this year’s budget.

The “intangible” legacy that Mbalula spoke of then, needs to be nurtured. Experts agree that World Cup hosts need to capitalise on the energy of the event.

As South African Tourism said: “It’s about building a national brand. It’s about hospitality. It’s about getting a nation to work together to deliver its best. And it’s about getting a nation to feel excited, passionate and patriotic about its status as World Cup host. This energy is contagious to visitors. It’s the true legacy of the World Cup for South Africa’s tourism industry.”
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