South Africans dream of World Cup bonanza

JOHANNESBURG - From the opulent millionaires' row on Cape Town's beachfront to the modest homes of Soweto township, South Africans are dreaming of a bonanza of cash from next year's World Cup.

Some are preparing to move out of their homes in the hope of renting them to well-heeled visitors for a one-month flood of foreign cash.

Prices for some private apartments in Johannesburg and elsewhere have rocketed recently to three, four and even six times normal, even before most fans have decided where to stay.

In Cape Town's "golden mile" along the beach, some owners of luxurious mansions overlooking the sea and Table Mountain were looking for rents of 90,000 rand ($12,100) or more per day, said Samuel Seeff, one of South Africa's top estate agents.

Such homes, offered to big corporations and in particular World Cup sponsors, would house five or more executives and provide swimming pools, jacuzzis, home theatres and decks from which to admire the stunning views, he said.

The spectacular houses are also protected from South Africa's frighteningly violent criminals with state-of-the-art security measures that are routine among the wealthy here.

At the opposite end of the scale, owners who converted their houses into bed and breakfasts in the historic centre of Soweto township are also expecting plenty of World Cup tourists next June and July, but plan to charge as little as 350 rand ($47) per night, with none of the huge price hikes seen elsewhere.

"I don't have World Cup rates," said Dolly Hlophe, who runs a neat bed and breakfast from her home, shaded by a beautifully tended garden on a street in Soweto near Archbishop Desmond Tutu's home.



Although big profits are undoubtedly there to be had - 450,000 visitors are expected for the World Cup - experts say the hopes of some property owners could be misplaced as demand slumps below expectations in certain cities, depending on where big teams such as Brazil, England and Germany play.

Like everything else about the World Cup, including plans for where to deploy a fleet of planes, trains and buses, everything is hanging on the tournament draw on December 4, when the location of each team's first-round matches will be decided.

Even before the draw, authorities and some more thoughtful South Africans are worried that too much greed will alienate the visitors and dash hopes that a successful World Cup will stimulate a flood of future tourists by introducing fans to spectacular sights from game parks to glorious beaches.

South Africa's World Cup boss, Danny Jordaan, told Reuters while in London this week to promote 2010 tourism that spiralling prices could backfire in the long run.

"I think it does not make good sense for a sustainable business. If people think they did not get a fair deal, they will think twice about coming back," he said.



Seeff has gone into partnership with former Manchester United goalkeeper, now television commentator, Gary Bailey to market private properties for World Cup visitors, but he said some people's expectations were unrealistic.

While three to four times normal monthly rentals could be expected, "Nobody is going to retire from this. Let's put it into context," Seeff told Reuters.

"I think there was the perception initially: 'Hey here is a great opportunity. I'll just join the rush here and I will get rich with one month's rental.' I don't think that is going to happen and I think those home owners who expected that are going to be disappointed frankly."

The company is telling owners not to give up longer-term rents in the hope of a World Cup El Dorado but says many people are keeping their properties vacant.

"If this means turning down a longer-term rental offer, the likelihood is you may be out of pocket in the long run," said Jules Arnott from Seeff's Cape Town office.

Seeff said so far there had not been a flood of requests for places to stay, with most fans waiting for the draw. "

Local reports say some Soweto residents have knocked down their houses to build bed and breakfasts, only to be left out of pocket and without bookings.

Rose Malinga, who owns The Rose Bed and Breakfast, told Reuters: "There are so many inquiries for the World Cup, mostly from America. The problem is that I am not sure they are coming."

Malinga converted her home into a three-bed guest house in 2003 and is building nine new rooms for 2010. But with normal Soweto tourism growing, she is not worried about a lack of visitors. "I am not specifically for the World Cup, I am looking beyond the World Cup," she said.

Soweto, as a key centre of the anti-apartheid struggle, is no stranger to tourists, with many modest bed and breakfasts and several famous restaurants such as Sakhumzi on Vilakazi street packed with foreigners long before the World Cup.

While Cape Town's mansions are some of the most spectacular houses in the world, World Cup fans looking to combine the world's most popular game with a real flavour of South Africa might be more attracted to Soweto.

Near Malinga's and Hlophe's guest houses are many powerful symbols of the anti-apartheid struggle, from the memorial to Hector Pieterson, the most famous of hundreds of children shot dead in a 1976 uprising, to Regina Mundi church and Orlando West high school where students gathered to confront police.

Locals say fans should not worry about security. "We don't have a crime problem in Soweto. It is like any other place in the world, and my area Orlando West is very safe," Hlophe said.