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
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
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
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
South Africa’s other neighbors have been sprucing up their image
ahead of the World Cup and trying to make life easier for
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
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
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.