By Adrian Brijbassi
NEW YORK – Leon Raubenheimer beams and says, “You’ll love South Africa. Everyone who goes comes back and tells me it’s the best time of their life.” He waves a finger and adds, “Just watch your back.”
It’s a caveat anyone familiar with the country throws in. South Africa’s reputation for beauty is matched by the perception of its lawlessness. Its crime statistics – including 18,148 murders last year and about 250,000 assaults annually – are gory details.
That hasn’t deterred FIFA from putting the 2010 World Cup there, or Torontonians familiar with the country from feeling affection for it.
Leon, the CEO of Zed Financial on Bay Street, was born in South Africa and moved to Canada in 1995. He and his business partner, Barry O’Neill, a Canadian who lived in Johannesburg in the 1990s, filled me in on local gems to see during my trip and connected me with several people who they promise will provide excellent insight into the nation’s character and spirit once I’m on the ground.
“They’ll show you a good time too,” Leon said, still smiling.
Turns out South Africa has another reputation: one for being wickedly fun.
“There’s so much tension in the country, people are just happy to let loose and they know how to do it,” Barry says.
Letting loose and partying will be daily business in the coming months. Nine cities will host World Cup games starting June 11 and no volcanic ash or any other obstacle would faze Europe’s soccer crazies from attending. Plenty of North Americans are coming too. Prior to the release of an additional 500,000 tickets last week, Americans had purchased 118,945, the most of any nation. Meanwhile, Canadians had bought 16,001 tickets to soccer’s biggest showcase.
The story, though, is about those who are staying away. The expected number of visitors has dropped sharply since last year’s estimate of 450,000. Last month, the tournament’s organizers said it expected 350,000 tourists and that number was revised to “maybe 200,000” last week.
As such, tickets are still available for more than half the games. Good seats can still be had for the U.S. vs. Slovenia match in Johannesburg on Friday, June 18, and several tickets are available for all four games scheduled for Nelspruit, the closest city to famed Kruger Park.
Organizers blame the recession and the cost of flights for the low turnout from the not-so-serious fans. The media in Europe has blamed South Africa’s crime rate as the No. 1 reason why no one wants to go. Brit tabloids have even said people would be risking their lives if they attend the first World Cup held in Africa.
If that’s the case, I’ll find out soon enough.
In the next 11 days I will be writing from the three big cities: Johannesburg, Durban and Cape Town. And keeping in mind what I’ve been told.
“You have to be careful and use street sense,” Leon warns again. “But as far as beauty, there’s nowhere like where you’re going.”
“South Africa will change how you look at life,” Barry says. “You can even eat zebra.”
Uhmmm ... we’ll see….
Now, back to Jim's blog and a look at various issues in the world of travel...
Wonderlist is giving away another trip; this time to the
If you've never been to Chicago, you're missing out. There's great food and music, wonderful architecture, terrific shopping and tons of sports, most notably at this time of year the Chicago Cubs at venerably Wrigley Field.
BAD NEWS IN BANGKOK
The street riots and deaths in Bangkok aren't helping tourism in Thailand, of course. Authorities blame terrorists for explosions that killed one person and injured 86, and that's not going to help make anyone feel better.
The Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs is warning Canadians to avoid "non-essential travel to central Bangkok's commercial business district" because of the ongoing protests and the "significant risk of violent clashes and further unrest" in the area.
New South Wales has launched new tourism marketing campaigns for Sydney and Regional New South Wales.
The NSW Government is working with a range of well-known Sydneysiders and tourism industry partners to ramp up efforts to attract more international and domestic tourists to Sydney. Report say they want to get beyond the iconic stuff like the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge.
"We know that Sydney is seen around the world as Australia’s only global city, it’s up there with Paris, Rome, London and New York,” tourism minister Jodi McKay said.“We want to capture all the extraordinary aspects of Sydney – its ethnicity, diversity, audacity - under the Sydnicity banner, to describe the city’s unique energy and to build on visitors’ positive perceptions of Sydney, in Australia and around the world.
I loved it when I was there for the Olympics, WAY back in 2000. Hoping to make a return trip later this year and it'll be interesting to see what's changed in an even ten years. Oddly enough, one of the things I DIDN'T Do was the Harbour Bridge, which is on my list!
It's important for tourism folks to change things up now and then. But they should never lose sight of the basics. I was in London this week and had a couple hours before heading to Heathrow to do a news story. I didn't have time for a big, new cultural place so the British tourism folks set me up for a quick tour of the Tower of London, and I loved it. So keep that in mind...