Neighboring countries hope for WCup tourism

Call it anti-World Cup fever: Campsites and budget-price game

lodges in Zimbabwe are receiving bookings from South Africans

trying to escape the frenzy of the world’s biggest sporting event

at home, according to tour operators and officials.

But other South African neighbors – Botswana with its game

parks, Mozambique with its beaches, Swaziland with a slice of royal

life – also hope to benefit from World Cup tourists who want to see

a bit more of the continent.

Zimbabwe’s National Parks department, in charge of the nation’s

11 nature preserves, reported a last-minute rush of bookings during

and surrounding the June 11-July 11 World Cup.

Emmanuel Fundira, head of the Zimbabwe Council of Tourism, said

photogenic safari locations like the Mana Pools wilderness park, on

the northern Zambezi river border with neighboring Zambia, were

already filling up.

“We must bear in mind South Africans will be running away from

the event … we see this pattern translating into local

bookings,” he said.

Zimbabwe’s biggest tourist attraction is Victoria Falls on the

Zambezi river in the northwest. Seeing the falls is a

once-in-a-lifetime experience: They constitute the widest curtain

of falling water in the world – more than a mile (1.7 kilometers)

wide – and are expected to attract World Cup visitors on quick

direct flights from South Africa. The resort town has campsites,

bed-and-breakfast cottages, and 930 star-rated hotel rooms.

But expectations of how many tourists will come are lower than

they once were. Despite its abundant animal and natural

attractions, Zimbabwe has been hard hit by years of economic and

political turmoil, with world-record inflation and a transitional

coalition government still headed by longtime ruler President

Robert Mugabe.

Originally the Harare government had hoped that up to 30 percent

of soccer fans visiting South Africa would make a side trip to

Zimbabwe, but expectations are lower now.

“We had false euphoria four years ago,” said Tourism Minister

Walter Mzembi.

Tourism in Zimbabwe peaked at 1.4 million in 1999, before the

often violent seizures of white-owned farms began in 2000,

disrupting the agriculture-based economy and leading to economic

meltdown.

The country has now reverted almost entirely to a hard currency

cash economy, mostly on the U.S. dollar. Major hotels accept

foreign credit cards, but many stores do not have swipe card

facilities, and those that do suffer constant outages on their

machines.

South Africa’s other neighbors have been sprucing up their image

ahead of the World Cup and trying to make life easier for

visitors.

Mozambique announced it will honor a new visa recognized by six

regional countries to allow free movement between them. The country

is also cutting bureaucracy often encountered by tourists from

Europe and the United States at frontiers and airports.

Mozambique, a former Portuguese colonial territory, offers

unspoiled beaches, deep sea fishing, island trips and cosmopolitan

facilities. The main airport in its capital city, Maputo, is

getting a $70 million facelift.

“Many countries in Europe and the Americas do not know what

Mozambique has,” said Mohamed Juma, a tourism operator in the

southern province of Maputo. “I think from June, Mozambique will

be on the touristic map.”

The tiny mountainous southern African kingdom of Swaziland got

1.3 million international state visitor arrivals last year, up 13.3

percent from the previous year, according to state Tourism

Authority chief Eric Maseko. Major attractions include wildlife

parks.

Asked about the World Cup, Maseko said, “We are ready.” But he

added that stray cattle on roads in the countryside was still “a

problem the government is working hard to sort out.”

Sibonangaye Dlamini, who owns a handicraft stall in Swaziland’s

capital Mbabane, said he looked forward to brisk business from

World Cup visitors.

“We won’t change prices just because it is the World Cup,” he

promised.

South Africa’s western neighbors, economically stable diamond

producers Botswana and Namibia, are known for cultural diversity

and magnificent scenery and wildlife. Namibia offers the haunting

dunes of the seaside Namib desert and Skeleton Coast; Botswana has

huge inland wetlands and swamps in the Okavango delta, and the

Chobe game animal preserve farther north.

Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe converge near the

Victoria Falls – known as Mosi Oa Tunya, or the Smoke that Thunders

in the local language, for the roaring spray rising from the

cascading waters visible from long distances.

Zimbabwe’s economic meltdown and shortages of food and gasoline

led to Zambia dominating tourism at the Victoria Falls on its side.

Zambian operators offer bungee-jumping, whitewater rafting and

helicopter rides over the falls for the so-called Flight of the

Angels – taken from British explorer David Livingstone’s

description of the falls as “sights so lovely they must have been

gazed upon by Angels in flight.”

The helicopter trips from the Zambian side are $125 per person

for a 15-minute trip. In contrast, in Zimbabwe’s ailing economy, a

waiter in the nearby luxury Kingdom casino hotel on the Zimbabwe

side of the Smoke that Thunders earns $120 for a month’s work. But

the gaming tables at the Kingdom have been closed for lack of

business, leaving only the slot machines in place.

Associated Press writers Sello Motseta in Botswana, Emanuel

Camillo in Mozambique and Phathizwe-Chief Zulu in Swaziland and

Lewis Mwanangombe in Zambia contributed to this report.