South Africa must work hard to build on its successful hosting of the soccer World Cup if it is to secure long-term benefits from the event, the country's tourism minister said last week.
Confounding the pessimists, South Africa won high praise for its handling of the football finals in June and July, delivering first-class transport and infrastructure, stadiums full of spectators and an atmosphere largely free of crime.
Tourist visits rose - if not by as much as some were forecasting - with total foreign arrivals expected to exceed 10 million this year, up from 9.6 million in 2009, Tourism Minister Marthinus Van Schalkwyk said. But work still needs to be done.
"This was not an end in itself, it was only a building block," Van Schalkwyk told members of Europe's tourism and sports industry at an event in Brussels on 23 September.
"We proved that developing countries can do it, but we have to take it forward," he said, pointing out that South Africa was in the process of bidding for several other major international sporting and political events to sustain its momentum.
"After the World Cup, it is all about momentum," he said.
Since the end of apartheid in 1994, and particularly over the past decade, tourism has become a mainstay of South Africa's economy, contributing just under 9% to gross domestic product, or around $25 billion a year.
Van Schalkwyk said he expected that figure to rise above 10% in the coming years, with 13 million tourists visiting by 2015 - in a country with a population of 49 million.
"In developing countries, tourism is an absolutely vital part of our economies," he said.
VISA card payments way up
For South Africa, retaining its tourism appeal will depend in large part on maintaining political stability and tackling violent crime, which has been a major drawback - the country has long been regarded as one of the world's most dangerous.
Widespread strikes and worker protests in recent weeks have taken some of the shine off the positive impact from the World Cup, but figures also show violent crime rates falling.
Van Schalkwyk would not be drawn on the impact hosting the World Cup was likely to have had on GDP this year, saying a government report on the issue was to be released shortly.
But figures compiled by credit card company Visa - one of the sponsors of the soccer finals - showed spending rose by more than 80% during the month-long event.
Between 11 June and 11 July, Visa payment card expenditure totalled $258.4 million, the company said in a report issued on Thursday, up from $141.9 million in the same period of 2009 - an 82% increase.
Since spending in 2009 may have been subdued by the global financial crisis - lowering the base and therefore inflating the 2010 increase - Visa carried out a further study controlling for that impact and still found a 57% increase in credit card spending during the World Cup.
The biggest spenders were American and British visitors, with the bulk of money spent on retail (26%), accommodation (12%) and restaurants (6%).
(EurActiv with Reuters.)