South Africa’s airports and borders have been busy over the last few weeks as hundreds-and-thousands of visitors stream into the country for the 2010 FIFA World Cup.

According to the South African Department of Home Affairs, 682,317 foreigners entered into the country between 1 June and 21 June 2010 – compared to the arrival of 541,065 during the same period last year. Over and above visitors from neighbouring countries, the largest number of foreign arrivals are from the United Kingdom, USA, Germany, Australia, Mexico, Brazil, France, Netherlands and Argentina.

As the action heats up on the pitch, with the next round soon to start, this influx is only set to rise, with major benefits for the future of South Africa’s tourism industry.

“From a tourism perspective the World Cup has been fantastic exposure for South Africa,” said Thandiwe January-Mclean, CEO of SA Tourism. “The World Cup has afforded South Africa the opportunity to do away with stereotypes. Overall, the response from visitors has been one of surprise. Surprise at our infrastructure development, at the excitement of match audiences. All our feedback has been positive, people are extremely excited.”

SA Tourism is confident that the World Cup will open up the country to a whole new spectrum of visitors.

“The 2010 FIFA World Cup has seen an increase in visitors from new countries, namely the Latin American nations such as Mexico and Brazil. This has been coupled with the implementation of the international FIFA Fan Fests™, at which over 900,000 people have been in attendance since the start of the tournament. “The highest television audience and international fan-fest attendance has been in Mexico. We are promoting South Africa in those Fan Fests,” said Roshene Singh, the chief marketing officer of SA Tourism.

“There will be new market opportunities after this tournament. With our track record of hosting major events, sports tourism is important to South Africa. We are not relaxing, we are continuing with our campaigns to convert awareness into visitors,” continued Singh.

One of the biggest talking points around large sporting events is the revenue generated from visiting fans, and SA Tourism is confident that the tournament will be a success from a tourism revenue perspective. “We only have estimates at this point, but we are looking at around R27 billion, almost a thousand percent of what we spent on marketing,” said Singh.

Last year the South African economy benefitted from R100 billion in tourism spend. Globally tourism numbers took a dive in 2009 - internationally there was a 4% decrease in tourism but South Africa managed a 3.7 per cent increase. “Although we have no official figures yet, we are confident we have met the numbers we projected for the World Cup,” said January-Mclean.

South African accommodation figures are also looking promising, with 65 to 70 per cent occupancy rates in Johannesburg, while Cape Town and Durban are looking closer to 85 per cent. “We will see an increase in movement as we reach the knock-out stages,” said January-Mclean.