Johannesburg – Local hospitality firms are pinning their hopes on England, the USA, Netherlands and Germany doing well in the first rounds of the 2010 Fifa World Cup.
Soccer enthusiasts from these countries are much more likely to make last-minute trips to South Africa to support their teams, said Brett Dungan, CEO of the Federated Hospitality Association of South Africa (Fedhasa). Fedhasa represents hotels and other accommodation owners, as well as restaurants and clubs.
Wins by Brazil and Portugal won't have the same effect on new tourist numbers, he said.
Dungan believes Germany may be key to a possible new wave of tourists in July.
German visitor numbers – there are believed to be 10 000 German tourists in the country – have been depressed by negative reporting, particularly remarks by German soccer legend Franz Beckenbauer in the run-up to the tournament.
He was highly critical about South Africa’s "big African problems" and its ability to host the World Cup.
At the start of the year Beckenbauer, who was president of Germany 2006's World Cup organising committee, said German people are put off by security fears and expensive tickets.
His tone has changed since landing in South Africa, but his comments did a lot of damage, said Dungan.
His retraction of his earlier criticism should help convince Germans to come to SA. "Better late than never," said Dungan.
Germany has been one of the few traditional soccer giants to impress in the first round of the tournament.
The Germans humiliated Australia 4-0 in their first game, which fired up enthusiasm for the World Cup in Germany.
The German newspaper Bild reflected the mood: "The whole of Germany now suddenly has the feeling that it's our World Cup. Why shouldn't we even win the title?"
SA enthusiasm impresses
England and Dutch supporters are also expected to be more likely to decide to come to South Africa due to close links with the country, partly due to their colonial heritage, said Dungan.
Klaas Deknatel, chief editor of Zuid-Afrika Journaal, an online magazine in the Netherlands, said he is pretty sure that more fans will come to South Africa.
He said reporting on the World Cup build-up was "shockingly" negative, with many people also put off by reports that the country was on the brink of civil war following Eugene Terreblanche's murder.
"But since the tournament has started, a lot of journalists were taken by the enormous enthusiasm of the South Africans in Johannesburg and started to report much more positive and fair."
That atmosphere, including South African support for the Dutch team, and reports about the beauty of the country will probably attract more fans, he added.
Enthusiasm for the World Cup has cooled somewhat in England, whose performance has also came under fire from Beckenbauer's sharp tongue in recent days, after its faltering performance against the US.
But if the US team can advance to the quarter-finals stage, South Africa can expect a surge of US fans to visit the country - especially with the prospect of a game in the semi-finals, says Christopher Harris of EPL Talk, the biggest football Premier League blog in the US.
"The United States's performance against England has made a difference among US supporters.
"A loss would have been a devastating blow to the nation's chances of advancing.
"But a draw gives both the players and supporters the confidence knowing that a win against Slovenia on Friday will take the country one giant step forward towards advancing to the round of 16."
Most fans already in SA
However, Harris believes the vast majority of fans intent on visiting South Africa are already there.
W Jarrett Campbell, chairperson of the Triangle Soccer Fanatics in North Carolina, agreed.
"A trip from the United States to South Africa is both difficult from a time perspective and extremely expensive at this time.
"I believe most US fans that are planning to attend the World Cup are already there. I'm sure that advancement to the later knockout stages might convince a few more to travel, but it is unlikely that you will see a large influx of more fans due to the difficult logistics to get South Africa."
There are still tickets available through Fifa and abundant accommodation – particularly outside Johannesburg - for last-minute visitors, said Dungan.
Currently hotels are busier than usual for this time of year, but activity levels are not what was expected for the soccer tournament.
After end-June, when some teams leave the tournament, even more accommodation will be available.