The United States has overtaken Germany as the second-biggest market for South African tourism, according to Wendy Tiou, Global Manager of Communications for South Africa Tourism. (The U.K. is number one, of course).
We spoke over lunch at Moyo, an open-air Johannesburg restaurant set in a park near the zoo. Moyo serves dishes from all parts of the country, including delicious curries, wild game and desserts that I’d never seen before and wish to meet again.
Even more interesting than the food is the setting, with singers and dancers and drummers, and lamps that look like happy white jellyfish.
During the middle of the interview I had my face painted in a kind of sunshine warrior design. How often does that happen to you during lunch?
South Africa is hosting the next World Cup, in 2010. The World Cup, as most Americans don’t know, is the world’s biggest sporting event. We hosted in 1994. Brazil won, remember? Perhaps we can build on Obama’s victory and cement our improved relations with the rest of the world by finally appreciating “soccer.”
There are already signs counting down the days, even the seconds, until the first match. As every host country has learned, preparations are overwhelming, but Ms. Tiou sounded confident that stadiums will be ready and there will be plenty of beds for the 450,000 visitors that are expected. The country is eager to play host.
Tourism has grown substantially overall, not just from America. And why not? It’s a gorgeous country, the weather is great, the people are interesting, it has a fascinating human narrative, dynamic, cross-cultural, full of challenges and opportunities, and is defining itself anew.
If you want adventure travel, vineyard outings, ancient human history, city culture – it’s all here, and with the infrastructure, exchange rate and English language to make the journey an easy one for Americans and other first-world dwellers. It’s a long haul, but if you have a couple of weeks it’s well worth the jet lag.