Roger St. Pierre visits South Africa to report on what comes nextA disaster for England, France, Italy, Germany and Brazil – did you ever see flags coming down quite so fast? – the football World Cup was a triumph not just for winners Spain but for host country South Africa.
The question everyone is now asking is: ‘What will be the legacy for the self-styled Rainbow Nation?’ On a visit to London immediately after the big event, South African Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe told a packed press conference audience: ‘The event brought the whole world to ‘The Cradle of Mankind’ and we are convinced a high percentage of our international visitors will want to return to see more of our kaleidoscopically varied country.
‘I have no doubt that the impact of this wonderful event will reverberate positively around the country, our continent and the world for many years to come.
‘Gearing up for the World Cup meant we were also creating an infrastructure for the future, to the benefit of both business and leisure travellers. Our immigration movement control system, tourism skills, public transport provision, information services, communication technology, service excellence, safety and security and health infrastructure have all, as a direct result, now been brought up to international standards.
‘It was an opportunity to expose some 14,218 frontline staff and approximately 15,000 volunteers to training in service excellence.’
The Deputy President continued: ‘Our Department of Home Affairs recorded 2.1m arrivals between June 1 and July 11, a significant increase over the 1.6m people from abroad who visited us over the same period the previous year.
‘The most important legacy belongs to our 50m citizens and residents whose concerted hard work secured a world-class tournament and who are now filled with solid hope that our country can achieve even greater things. We turned self-doubt and cynicism into confidence and hope,’ concluded Mr Motlanthe.
Particular pride has been taken in South Africa over the way in which the oft predicated crime wave against the fans simply failed to happen: ‘I’ve never felt safer when attending a football tournament,’ said one pleasantly surprised England fan, adding: ‘The authorities put more police on the streets and have now promised things will stay that way.’
Having proved itself capable of successfully staging such a massive international event, South Africa’s tourism industry is now focusing intently on bidding for major conferences and exhibitions. Many of the World Cup venues were specifically designed with an eye on life beyond the World Cup and MICE business is an important part of their format.
Take Durban’s spectacular new Moses Mabhida Stadium, for example. Completed in 2009, this world-class multi-purpose sporting facility hosted seven FIFA World Cup events, including a semi-final, and has already proved to be an iconic new landmark in a city that has made major strides in cleaning up its image and broadening its appeal.
Long known for its superb Indian Ocean beaches, Durban’s minus was a rather rundown and crime-prone city centre and a crumbling infrastructure – but that’s no longer true. The 3.1bn Rand (£1.2bn) stadium features a towering 38-storey, 106m high, 360m long central arch that supports a web of interlocking galvanised steel cables, totalling more than 36km in length. Incorporated in the two southern legs is a 550-step guided SkyWalk attraction that reaches to the top of the arch – from where intrepid visitors can take a bungee-style leap that is already proving to be a major tourism attraction.
Inspired by the distinctive V-shape of the South African national flag, the arch incorporates a unique cable-car ride that gives dramatically sweeping views across the entire city. Since it opened for business in November 2009, the SkyCar has attracted more than 100,000 paying visitors, while almost 30,000 have walked up the arch and 35,000 took a stadium tour in the first six months of operation. Recognising that sport alone will not make this superb venue financially viable, the designers have incorporated not only visitor attractions like the SkyWalk and cable car but also a range of shops and extensive MICE facilities that have already hosted more than 120 corporate and private events. A magnificent Presidential Suite seats up to 160 people, while the Mixed Zone and its atrium can accommodate a maximum of 700 for a cocktail party or 360 for a seated dining function. A comprehensive range of additional rentable rooms can cater for everything from board meetings to mass rallies. The aim is to keep the stadium busy 24/7. Not just on match days but year round.
The key city in KwaZulu Natal, Durban is now the base of South Africa’s first dedicated major convention bureau. Says Michael Mabuyakhulu, who is responsible for the city’s economic development and tourism functions: ‘We intend to develop our membership and represent our meeting venues and business tourism service providers in a way that will rival the operations of other leading-edge convention bureaux such as Business Events Sydney, which has been something of a model for us.
‘In a region that is popularly known as The Zulu Nation, with all its diverse attractions – from a beautiful seashore and imposing mountains to historic battlefield sites and a lively city – we can provide ideal venues for everything from small- to medium-sized meetings up to major international conventions and exhibitions.’
Significantly, there is now a very real prospect for a national convention bureau in this fast changing country. Speaking to the more than 290 delegates at the recent South African Association for the Conference Industry 2010 National Conference, which Durban hosted at the Southern Sun Elangeni Hotel, Minister of Tourism Marthinus van Schalkwyk announced: ‘Such an organisation could be fully operational by the latter half of 2011. Not only will we be able to enhance our co-ordinating role between industry, bidding associations and sports federations, to eliminate duplication of effort, but we will also strengthen the dedicated business unit tasked to drive meetings and other large events into South Africa in a focused and energetic manner. The government fully appreciates the major role played by the tourism industry in the wider national economy.’
KwaZulu Natal’s myriad attractions include not only big city Durban but the great outdoors. There are game parks and safaris aplenty, along the so-called Elephant Coast and, for the Big Five game watch experience, the Hluhluwe-Umfolozi Game Reserve. Other cornerstone attractions include the traditional villages and farms of Zululand, the dramatically evocative battlefield sites at Blood River, Isandlwana and Rorke’s Drift and the annual Sardine Run natural phenomenon which sees sharks, dolphins, game fish and sea birds track vast shoals as they migrate along the coast.
Cited by Lonely Planet as one off the world’s Top 10 family beach holiday resorts, Durban also has its fair share of quality business style hotels, most of them with meetings facilities. I overnighted at the superb Fairmont Zimbali resort, which fully lives up to the brand’s de luxe image and sits beside a picturesque golf course and has sweeping ocean views as well as luxury meeting rooms that provide discretion and style in equal measure. Along the coast, Port Elizabeth and East London are also getting serious about tourism in general and MICE business in particular.
Port Elizabeth’s jewel in the crown is a work in progress, adding to existing extensive facilities which resemble an American seaside town of the 1950s, The Boardwalk will shortly feature a new 5-star 135-room hotel and a 3,000sqm convention centre with a state-of-the-art business centre and a 2,294 capacity cinema-style main room that can be broken down into five spaces.
Nelson Mandela Bay Tourism flagged up for me a fascinating Apartheid Museum and Red Location township tour that could prove the high spots for a group experience with a difference. As I ate traditional African fare in a shanty town shabeen, I was entertained by an electrifying song and dance troop that has only been in business for six months but is already picking up lots of corporate entertainment interest.
In stark contrast to this scene of joy, the museum chillingly depicts the worst nightmares of the segregation era and the lives and untimely deaths of its many martyrs. This is a city that still exudes a strong colonial ambience, the wealth of superb Victorian buildings crying out for the sort of guided tour I enjoyed – one of the curiosities being a unique and imposing war memorial dedicated to celebrating the role of the horse in warfare!
A wide range of events is already being mapped out to ensure that the World Cup tournament’s Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium does not end up as a white elephant. Says the venue’s CEO Stephan Pretorius: ‘I am convinced the stadium can be long-term profitable. The main challenge is to find two major sports teams to be our anchor tenants but corporate entertainment and the provision of MICE facilities will be equally crucial’.
Hotel stock here includes the traditional Kelway Hotel, with its expansive views from the low cliffs across the sweeping bay – this is the eastern end of the stunningly beautiful and internationally renowned Garden Route.
For a very different kind of experience, the inviting Areena Riverside Resort, just outside East London, is a collection of comfortable wooden villas and is set on a secluded riverside site – where a sundown corporate barbecue can provide the ice-breaking focal point for a team-building exercise. Tourism Buffalo flagged up for me such sellers as Inkwenkwezi Private Game Reserve, with its Meet the Ostriches and Elephant Encounter experiences, the Nahoon Nature Reserve and the seaside joys of the East London Esplanade.
In a post World Cup survey conducted by the YouGoveStone research agency among its network of influential people, on behalf of SAB Miller, 72% of respondents believed South Africa would enjoy a positive legacy from the World Cup, as opposed to a mere 29% of those polled before the event.
Some 61% in the latter poll said they thought South Africa would be a good place to hold other global scale events of every kind.
• Some 777,263 foreign visitors were in South Africa during the World Cup, a 32% increase on the same period the previous year.
• The overall economic impact of the World Cup on South Africa was an estimated 93bn Rand (£8.5bn), some 62% of which was accounted for by spending on infrastructure and preparations.
• Total overall average spend per head or foreign visitors was 30,200 Rand (£2,768).
• Close on US$53bn (£33bn) was invested in airport upgrades, with a further US$1bn (£625m) being spent on building the new King Shaka International Airport at La Mercy, near Johannesburg.
• Government estimates are that the World Cup created 130,000 jobs and contributed 0.4% to South Africa’s GDP for 2010, injecting 38bn Rand (£3.5bn) into the economy.