Johannesburg — WITH England recently securing its place in next year's Soccer World Cup, thousands of English fans have already made their bookings for the tournament.
The UK, together with Germany, is one of SA's strongest tourist markets, with close to 500000 British tourists visiting the country last year.
By June this year, British soccer fans had bought a total of 42000 tickets for next year's event, the second-highest sale outside of SA, according to data supplied by Fifa.
The US had the highest sales with 73000 tickets sold and Germany with 30000. In all, 630000 tickets in 188 countries were sold by June.
David Solomon, chairman of Solomon Brothers Property Holdings, the developers of Pepper Club, a R400m hotel and spa set to open in Cape Town early next year, said that while there is not yet clarity on where the English team will be based, the Pepper Club is already fielding enquiries from British fans looking to base themselves in Cape Town for the duration of the tournament.
Tommy Edmond, CEO of travel group Tourvest, said the group had also received additional bookings from British fans since England's qualification.
Graham Wood, MD of the Southern Sun hotels, said many UK fans had made bookings long before England's qualification.
Solomon expects British fans to make up a large part of the expected 450000 visitors to the World Cup .
"The fact that the World Cup falls over the British summer, when most of the country's tourists take their annual leave, means that SA will certainly be the destination of choice over this period," Solomon said.
SA is already a popular destination for UK sports fans. During June, arrival numbers from the UK received a significant boost from the British and Irish Lions tour, with 56% more tourists arriving in SA compared with the same month last year.
And if the Lions tour is anything to go by, soccer fans will be thirsty when they arrive. Wood said the rugby tourists made extensive use of the group food and beverage facilities and trade is expected to be even higher for the soccer fans.
Edmond said the popular Quay Four restaurant at Cape Town's V&A Waterfront achieved a record turnover when the Lions played in the city. "We expect the British and other soccer fans to improve that record," he said.
England joins 10 other countries that have qualified for the World Cup, including Spain, the Netherlands, Brazil, Australia and Japan. Germany, another strong market for SA, has yet to qualify for next year's tournament.
Teams will only know where they will be based once Fifa does the final group draw in early December in Cape Town.