Sign in / Join

So how many people did go to the World Cup?

One way in which the economic cost of hosting major sporting events is justified is that it will produce a significant stimulus to the tourist industry. Already the South African government has been making claims about the influx of visitors.

A couple of days after the final The South African Home Affairs Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma told the press that "1.4 million persons had entered the country" during the World Cup ( Given that the consultancy firm Grant Thornton had downgraded their forecast before the tournament to only 373,000, this sounds pretty impressive, doesn’t it?

Well, that depends. First, it’s impressive that the government can produce a figure within two days of the event finishing. This is thanks to the charmingly named “Movement Control System” they have recently installed at all the nation’s main entry points which also enabled them to keep 188 undesirables out. So now they have all the numbers on computer, they can give an instant tally. South Africa is pretty good at collecting visitor numbers, and issues two documents online providing a monthly breakdown of arrivals (the Tourism and Migration Report and their port of origin (Table A, Total Tourists, going back a few years.

The Tourism and Migration report shows that in June 2009, 1,033,420 persons entered the country and July 2009 1,326,609 persons entered the country (this is the sum of foreign arrivals and arrivals of SA residents). Counting only 11/31 of the July figures, this means that total arrivals for the equivalent period of the previous year were was 1,504,152- i.e. a higher figure than announced for the World Cup. So if we take the minister at his precise words ("persons had entered the country") it would appear that there was a fall of about 100,000 compared to the previous year.

If we ignore the exact wording and assume that the minister had excluded arrivals of South African residents then the equivalent figure for the previous year was 1,030, 831 (i.e. foreigners entering the country allowing 11/31 of the July figure). This is a respectable increase of 35%, or about 370,000 visitors –almost exactly Grant Thornton’s figure.

Whatever the case, the minister had earlier confirmed that most these foreign visitors came from SADC, the neighbouring African states ( and the article suggests a figure of about 80%, in line with the usual pattern. Most of these people will have come for same reasons they came in 2009 (and 2008, 2007...) - to work and visit relatives. Even if they were going to the football, they were unlikely to be spending on the same scale as Americans, Germans, Brits. So, even allowing a generous interpretation of the minister's statement, there were likely fewer than 100,000 high spending World Cup visitors.

We probably won’t know exactly what the minister meant until the statistics are published. The June figures should be published around the end of September and the July figures at the end of October.