The eagerly awaited 2010 World Soccer Cup (WSC) is just five months away. Time can really fly! It seems like the other day when in 2002 or thereabout South Africa with the backing of the legendry former President Nelson Mandela missed out on the 2006 WSC which went to Germany and left Africa crest fallen. Nevertheless, Africa was eventually consoled by the Federation of International Football Association (FIFA) and is now hosting 2010 WSC in S. Africa and the continent is ecstatic over this important sports event.
Reports coming from South Africa indicate that the country will make it against all odds including wide spread skepticism and not to discount the usual stereo-type prejudices against Africa by detractors. The stadiums are almost 100 percent ready in spite of deep rooted fears about S. Africas capability to deliver. The ancillary infrastructure in terms of hotels and surface transport around the country is, by and large, in place and despite unwarranted jitters and second guessing about tranquility and security during the tournament S. Africa seems to be on top of the situation to deliver on those critical aspects as well.
The WSC is more than just a sports competition. It is about people, politics and economics. While it is true that S. Africa will be the epicenter of WSC activities, it is also very real that Africa and in particular S. African neighbours will feel the tremors emanating from the WSC show and the converse could be true. Take for example, the recent unfortunate and poignant attack on the Togolese Soccer Team in Cabinda, Angola by the separatist rebels. This act was enough to send shockwaves far and wide and has indeed raised eyebrows hence invoked security alert levels in S. Africa. On a positive note the WSC is expected to usher in an economic Bonanza not only to the host country but also to the neighbouring countries Tanzania inclusive. However, to benefit from this windfall S. Africans neighbours need to put their act together in order to meet the WSC needs and wants.
According to reliable sources Tanzania has put in place a team of experts to prepare and strategize how the country could benefit from the WSC. This team comprise of officials from the Ministry of Natural Resources & Tourism (Team Leader), Ministry of Culture, Sports and Information, Tanzania Tourist Board (TTB) and Tanzania Football Federation. It is a bit puzzling that this Task Force doesnt have representation from the local airlines whose input I believe is equally important. In this regard it is expected that this Task Force amongst other things is critically addressing the following aspects.
To start with, the 2010 WSC is taking place during the summertime which is a peak season for holiday makers. This is the time when there is a big influx of tourists in the country and it is only logical to expect an increase of tourists provided the institutions charged with tourism in conjunction with foreign and local tourist agencies have done their homework. This is the right time to package Tanzania as a tourist destination alongside 2010 WSC particularly in soccer loving countries in Europe, Middle East and Far East. Such packaging could entice tourists to stop over in Tanzania for a sojourn and proceed to S. Africa to watch the soccer tournament or vice versa.
With the expected increase in tourists there comes the challenge of availability of accommodation and other social amenities like night clubs, casinos, etc. Let us remember that during the peak season the hotel occupancy rate in Tanzania Mainland and Zanzibar is very high hence the need to increase hotel rooms and other social amenities to cater for the expected increase. This brings us to the next challenge.
To attract more tourists during the 2010 WSC, Tanzania is competing with other tourist destinations such as Kenya, Zambia, Namibia, etc. Tanzania as tourist destination has to be cost competitive in terms of hotel rates, visa facilitation, ground transportation and of course air transportation. For instance, at the moment direct flights between Tanzania and S. Africa are monopolized by South Africa Airways (SAA) after Air Tanzania suspended operations on the Dar ES Salaam-Johannesburg route in November 2008. Because of the SAA monopoly the airfares between Tanzania and S. Africa are currently on the high side, a factor that may affect adversely the competitiveness of Tanzania in the eyes of the tourist-cum-soccer fans. Let us also remember that there are local soccer fans who will be flying to S. Africa during this period and this will obviously push up the demand for air transport.
It is because of this need that the writer is of the strong view that airline representation at the local WSC Task Force is vital to try and see how local airlines can be assisted by the government to re-launch the Dar Es Salaam-Johannesburg route (even for a brief period) to cater for the expected increase in demand and eventually bring down the airfares to competitive levels. Short of this, air travellers will be at the mercy of SAA and this could be a turn off to potential travellers. Equally important is to plan for a surge in demand of air services in the domestic networks by various airline stakeholders during this period. As for TTB this is the right time for the road show in S. Africa to showcase Tanzanias tourism potential to the world at a one stop centre.
On its part TFF has its job well cut out. Just like during the FIFA Confederation Cup competition which took place in S. Africa in 2009 as a prelude to 2010 WSC and the recent Africa Cup of Nations, Tanzania is expected to host some 2010 WSC participating countries. Last year New Zealand played a warm up match with Taifa Stars in Dar ES Salaam and in January 2010 Ivory Coast set up camp in Dar Salaam and played two matches with the national teams of Rwanda and Tanzania. The preparatory matches this time around could be of high profile given the practice that during the WSC participating teams from different groups usually compete against each other to gauge their state of readiness. In this regard Tanzania could end up hosting three 2010 WSC participating teams depending on how TFF is positioning itself for this opportunity. Obviously this will pause a huge challenge to the Task Force and the country in terms of logistical and security dimensions.
It is not the aim of this discourse to pre-empt or take anything away from the 2010 WSC local Task Force because it is made up of well respected individuals. However, in my considered view the Task Forces preparations to this effect have so far been shrouded in secrecy. The public at large is in darkness as to what is going on hence the anxiety. At this moment we can only give the Task Force the benefit of the doubt and hope that it will leave no stone unturned to ensure that Tanzania does not miss out on the 2010 WSC gravy train or else prepare to butt heads with the public.