Mike Woitalla reporting from South Africa
As U.S. Senator John Kerry leaves the lobby of his Cape Town hotel three days before the World Cup Preliminary Draw in Durban, he shakes a few hands and says he's in South Africa on "some business." The former presidential candidate adds, "I'll be back for the World Cup."
If all goes as World Cup 2010 organizers plan, the former presidential candidate will be just one of very many Americans arriving when the finals begin in 631 days.
The Organizing Committee expects at least 450,000 visitors from around the world and believes publicity from the tournament will ignite a long-term tourism boost.
South Africa is already the No. 1 tourist destination sub-Saharan Africa. More than 8 million foreigners visited South Africa in 2006. To reach the goal of attracting 10 million tourists per year, South Africa's Tourism Growth Strategy is targeting American visitors.
About 250,000 Americans visited South Africa in 2006, ranking them third after British and German tourists.
A prime example of how South Africa hopes to parlay the World Cup into a tourism bounce can be found in the northeast province of Mpumalanga.
The province's capital, Nelspruit, with a population of less than 300,000, is the smallest of the nine cities that will be hosting.
The $130 million dedicated to constructing the 45,000-seat Mbombela Stadium for four games seems a risky proposition for a city that does not yet have a Premier Soccer League to move into the stadium after the tournament.
But Mpumalanga, which ranks fourth among South Africa's nine provinces in tourism, believes the payoff will come by publicizing its tourist attractions. The 18 columns supporting Mbombela Stadium's stands are designed to resemble giraffes, reminding fans of the province's wildlife reserves.
"Hosting World Cup games is part of our campaign to aggressively marketing our province," says Solly Mosidi, CEO of the Mpumalanga Tourism and Parks Agency.
Mpumalange's attractions include the Blade Canyon River - the world's third deepest canyon -- the Kruger National Park and several private wild game reserves. The opportunity to observe lions, leopards and hippos from within a few feet, in their natural habitat, should help convince soccer fans to make the long trip to South Africa.
"You can spend the morning spotting elephants and other wildlife," says Wendy Tlou of South African Tourism, "and go to the game in the evening."
South Africa is investing more than $6 billion in direct infrastructure support for its World Cup effort, a figure that represents 10 percent of its overall investment in infrastructure since 2006.
It is spending $2.5 billion in stadium construction and renovation. (Germany's stadium costs for the 2006 World Cup were $2.2 billion.)
Danny Jordaan, the CEO of 2010 World Cup Organizing Committee, says the World Cup effort has created 14,100 jobs for "people who didn't have jobs before."
Sunday's preliminary draw - a 90-minute event for which 170 nations have requested television feeds -- marks the 2010 World Cup's first official event and launches the campaign for luring visitors to the biggest sporting event ever to be hosted by the continent. The theme is "Africa is the theater, South Africa is the stage."
"We know that we have to work so much more and harder just to be equal," says Jordaan, "because it's a territory where the world has never gone before for a World Cup.
"There is no historic or scientific basis upon which people can make there own assessment, because it is a first and new experience. And therefore it must be an excellent experience and we want to show in our preliminary draw that our stage will be better.
"The draw must be better, so the people say, 'We cannot wait to come this World Cup.'"