Travel Weekly's Michelle Baran is in South Africa, a month before the World Cup soccer tournament begins. Her first dispatch follows.
From the minute I arrived in South Africa, one thing became clear — South Africa wants the world to know it is ready to be the first African country to (hopefully successfully) host the World Cup one month from now.
The excitement and anticipation for the 2010 FIFA World Cup, which starts on June 11, is palpable here.
The fact that South African President Jacob Zuma spoke at the opening ceremony of the Indaba travel show, held in Durban May 8 to 11, is indicative of just what an important economic opportunity the World Cup is for South Africa, especially for the tourism sector.
And it’s no surprise that South Africa is rolling out the World Cup welcome mat with vigor, from a mock soccer field at a baggage claim waiting area at Johannesburg International Airport to soccer players performing ball tricks at Indaba.
South Africa is hurrying to put the final touches on its stadiums and host cities to ensure that visitors have an experience worth sharing with family and friends, and that those watching from home are equally impressed (and enticed to come visit).
Traveling with a South Africa Tourism press group, I flew into the brand-new King Shaka International Airport in Durban, which had not even been open for a week, and saw some of the infrastructure upgrades.
Throughout Durban, roadwork was being done, and the waterfront boardwalk was in the process of being renovated, among other touch-ups.
But the biggest indicator of pride and readiness for the event in this city was by far Durban’s Moses Mabhida Stadium, one of the 10 World Cup venues, known for its tall arch along which a cable car rides.
Walking into the stadium for a press conference with top FIFA officials and representatives of South Africa’s tourism industry, I couldn’t help but start to feel the World Cup fever myself.
The stadium — with its fresh grass, multicolored seats, partially shading roof and the soaring arch above — is downright awe-inspiring. There is something about an empty stadium before a major global sporting event — the calm before the storm — that elicits such anticipation.
During the press conference, officials were asked to address many of the concerns and challenges they face in the final stretch, including security, problematic fans, readiness, ticket sales and infrastructure.
With only 30 days to go before what everyone here is saying is not just a South African World Cup but an African World Cup, FIFA General Secretary Jerome Valcke said with confidence, "There was never a single time when FIFA thought about moving this World Cup to another country."
Based on my first impressions, I have little doubt that South Africa will pull it off. But I certainly don’t have a crystal ball either.