Less than half of the 500, 000 foreign tourists expected to travel to South Africa for the World Cup are actually going to arrive.
Owners have spent thousands refurbishing their premises
Britain's Daily Telegraph newspaper reported Fifa officials saying that the number of soccer fans expected to arrive in South Africa has dropped to 220, 000.
As a result, South Africa's economy, and particularly its tourism sector, has been dealt a major blow because many owners have spent thousands refurbishing their hotels and guesthouses and are now less likely to get their money back.
In 2007, international business consultants Grant Thornton projected that the World Cup would bring R21.3-billion into the local economy and create 159, 000 new jobs.
Two months ago, international consultants Morgan Stanley estimated that 350, 000 visitors would spend about R15-billion on their World Cup trips.
This now looks unlikely.
The government has spent about R33-billion on the tournament, building stadiums and improving infrastructure such as roads, telecommunications and transport.
Fifa spokesman Delia Fisher confirmed that the number of tourists expected to arrive in South Africa had dwindled, but said issuing actual figures would amount to a "premature calculation".
By early this year, Match, Fifa's hospitality arm, which could not be reached for comment yesterday, had already released about 500, 000 beds back on to the market after it became clear that fewer international soccer fans wished to travel to South Africa.
This devastated owners of small guesthouses and bed and breakfast establishments, including Lizz Chanza, owner of the Chanza B&B in Pimville, who expected to earn a packet from the tournament.
"They [Match] are very cruel. They dumped us at the last minute. I hate Match for what they did," she said. "They wanted to take the bread out of our mouths. We are not expensive, our pricing is reasonable."
Match had also booked 45, 000 return seats on SAA-operated local flights but reduced the total to a mere 1, 000, a move that has resulted in a substantial drop in airfares during the World Cup period.
Michael Tatalias, CEO of the Southern African Tourism Services Association, said his organisation had been "very realistic" about the number of visitors expected during the World Cup.
"We've been expecting around that number [220, 000] anyway, though our predictions were slightly more than that," he said.
"We are disappointed that it may be fewer than we thought, but we expected a total of 450, 000 people - including the teams, their managers and partners as well as the entire international media."
Tatalias said he felt sorry for those who thought they would make "a fortune" from the month-long tournament.
"Tourism is a confidence thing and the current economic climate in Europe is fragile," he said.
"Because of job insecurity, people are more concerned about the cost of a long-haul trip to South Africa so some may opt to buy a big-screen TV and maybe appease the family with a little holiday to a nearer destination later, which would cost much less than coming here."
Tatalias said all that remained to be done was offer the best possible experience for overseas tourists so that "even those who could not come can see that South Africa is a great holiday destination and thus create tourism opportunities for years to come".
South Korea and Japan, which hosted the 2002 World Cup and is also a long-haul destination from Europe, recorded about 404, 000 visitors.
SA Tourism's chief marketing officer Rosen Singh said they had been expecting about 300, 000 but it was still too soon to say how many will arrive.
"All we can base things on right now are the ticket sales and we are still unsure as to what those relate to in visitor numbers," she said.
"There has never been a consolidated number of how many visitors we would have, but we are working on a figure of 300, 000 and we believe we will reach that."
The Associated Press reported that because Fifa still has 355, 000 tickets to sell in eight weeks before the tournament, it has been forced to offer cheaper tickets to "avoid a public relations disaster - the sight of empty seats at stadiums".
But Fisher said Fifa was pleased with how the final over-the-counter ticket sales phase was going and was confident that stadiums will be full, "even without lowering ticket prices."
About 2.3-million tickets have been sold.
What the ecomomists say:
Ecomomists said that the combination of the global financial crisis, expensive long-haul flights to South Africa and pricey accommodation have all contributed to the decline in the number of visitors expected to attend the 2010 World Cup.
The UK's Daily Telegraph newspaper yesterday reported Fifa officials saying that only 220, 000 of the expected 55, 000 fans are likely to turn up.
Economist Mike Schussler said: "Our own greed contributed to it through expensive hotel prices, flights, etcetera. People saw it as a get-rich-quick scheme. Guesthouses outside the host cities will see little or no visitors at all."
Schussler said the recession was largely responsible for the decline in the number of expected visitors. He said that many of the projections were made before the global recession.
Investment Solutions economist Chris Hart said he was "extremely disappointed" by the decrease in numbers of foreign visitors expected to attend the tournament.
However, he said this could be a blessing is disguise because many potential visitors could now take advantage of the resulting cheap tickets and accommodation.
South Africans, Hart said, had let the country's international image slip at a crucial time: "The Terre Blanche murder, stories about the selling of bullet-proof vests and crime help reinforce perceptions that South Africa is a lawless society."
But Efficient Group economist Dawie Roodt believes that the World Cup will still have many positive spin-offs, although he did say that the decline in visitor numbers will deprive the South African economy of about R10-billion.
"I think we will not see less than 300, 000 visitors. The most important thing is that those who come should be treated well. The real long-term benefits will be after the World Cup," Roodt said.