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Tourism chiefs warn against World Cup greed

/ Source: The Associated Press

South African soccer and tourism officials on Thursday warned hotels, airlines and restaurants not to scare off future tourists by hiking prices during next year's World Cup.

With some 500,000 tourists expected to descend upon South Africa in mid-2010 and spend an estimated $850 million during the monthlong tournament, tourism officials say they fear visitors will be put off by exorbitant costs as hotels and guest lodges raise their prices.

Media reports have said that some hotels are planning to charge as much as $250 for a basic room that normally would be $100 to $150. Other reports point to homes along Cape Town's exclusive Atlantic seaboard renting for $1,000 to $35,000 a day — with one house reportedly renting for a whopping $1 million for the duration of the tournament.

But Cape Town-based tourism official Calvyn Gilfellan said viewing the tournament as a cash cow will harm South Africa's burgeoning tourism industry. Up to 290,000 extra visitors are expected to come over the five years after the tournament because of South Africa's heightened visibility, and Gilfellan said price-gouging could scare them off.

"We are extremely concerned," he told The Associated Press. "It would be like killing the goose that laid the golden egg."

Gilfellan is head of Cape Town Routes Unlimited, which oversees tourism in the seaside city and the surrounding Western Cape province, known for its vineyards and beaches, making it one of the country's top tourist destinations.

Cape Town will host several matches, including one semifinal. It expects 150,000 visitors on match days.

Euphoria over winning the rights to host the first World Cup in Africa has started to evaporate amid concerns over rising stadium construction costs and locals' worries that FIFA's sponsorship deals and marketing restrictions will not benefit them.

After initial fears that FIFA's booking agent, MATCH, would not be able to secure 55,000 rooms, event organizers have said there will be enough accommodation.

Other concerns include infrastructure and transport challenges, and South Africa's notoriously high crime rate. Official government figures list up 50 murders a day, but World Cup organizers say the country has recruited more than 140,000 extra police, with 100,000 more in reserve, backed up by more vehicles and water cannons.

But those concerns appeared to be momentarily blinded by the arrival this week of stars like English soccer-player David Beckham and South African actress Charlize Theron, who jetted into Cape Town for Friday's draw.

"(The World Cup) is enormously important for South Africa," Helen Zille, Western Cape premier, said Wednesday at the start of official events for the draw. "It's the biggest event in the world and its our chance to dispel the Afro-pessimism that grips the world still."

The normally sleepy Cape Town, famed for its striking Table Mountain, is getting a taste of times to come with the arrival of hundreds of foreign journalists and international soccer officials. Roads are closed and there is heavy traffic.

The main subject among locals and visitors alike: whether they are getting value for their money.

World Cup organizers say they are doing everything they can to ensure that.

"We want fair prices, we want quality services," World Cup chief executive Danny Jordaan told Associated Press Television News on Wednesday. "We want returning visitors and tourists and the only way we can get that is if people feel a sense of fairness in the prices."