Leicester City have been crowned English Premier League (EPL) champions, creating an unlikely Cinderella story. Leicester City has been now confirmed as the 8th wonder of the world. Leicester City, who rose from likely relegation to league champions in just one season, are owned by Thai billionaire Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, who arranged their visit to Thailand this week. Players and staff were welcomed to Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi International Airport by cheering supporters on Monday as they arrived in Thailand. Members of Premier League-winning team Leicester City have arrived in Bangkok for a celebratory tour.
The tour of Leicester City in Thailand will increase media attention in Thailand, and they will certainly milk the publicity to the bone. The EPL is the most watched soccer league in the world, broadcast in 212 territories, and working with 80 different broadcasters. The TV audience of the EPL is 4,7 billion and the beautiful game’s viewership is growing steadily. The rise of Leicester City presents many opportunities that I think South African Tourism can exploit.
In 2013, the City of eThekwini hosted the Travel Agents Federation of India’s International Travel Convention as a means to introduce the travel intermediaries to the tourism product of KwaZulu-Natal specifically and South Africa generally. The hosting of such as event was able to increase the number of arrivals from India to South Africa. The then South African Minister of Tourism Marthinus van Schalkwyk highlighted the excellent relationship that has existed between South Africa and India over the past 20 years. He said the two countries had much in common, for example in their rich history and in their mutual respect for one another.
I would suggest that South Africa Tourism consider organising a familiarisation tour for Leicester City to come to South Africa. The public relations that South Africa would benefit from such a tour will be offset by increased media attention on destination South Africa. Tourism is now the economic driver of the economy as mining’s contribution to the economy has declined, and tourism is now regarded as the ‘’new gold’’. To add insult to injury, commodity prices related to mining have decreased remarkably, robbing mining companies of profitability, leading to widespread job shedding impacting negatively on economic growth. The South African Rand has depreciated against major currencies, leading to less inflationary pressures in the economy. South Africa has once again looked to tourism to restore investor confidence, create jobs, drive economic growth and drive export-led growth.
South Africa has been visited by popular teams such as Crystal Palace, AC Milan, Hoffenheim, Manchester United, Barcelona, Sporting Lisbon and Wolfsburg. The White Hart Lane outfit, Tottenham Hotspurs signed Mbulelo Old John Mabizela from the mighty Orlando Pirates, when he inspired Pirates to a 2-1 win over Tottenham Hotspurs in 2003. Foreign teams visit foreign destinations with the intention to strengthen relationships and increase their fan base for business reasons. Soccer is big business, and foreign tours are important for deepening foreign income streams. South Africa has two popular teams, namely Orlando Pirates which is consistent in challenging for silverware in African continental competitions. The second team, more popular than Pirates, is Kaizer Chiefs which is regarded as the cup champions of South Africa.
It is these teams that readily benefit from competitive matches when foreign teams visit South Africa. In as much as foreign teams visit South Africa for commercial reasons, South Africa must exploit the opportunities for gaining publicity from such visits. The organisation of a familiarisation tour for Leicester City makes sense when you consider that United Kingdom (UK) represents the bulk of international outbound tourism arrivals in South Africa, represented by 54 608 tourists, representing 23.3% of international arrivals according to Statistics South Africa’s Tourism and Migration, December 2015. With a favourable exchange rate, South Africa is basically on ‘sale’ when it comes to tourism, and we must relentlessly promote tourism to South Africa to address the triple challenges of poverty, inequality and unemployment. South Africa has successfully hosted the 2010 FIFA World Cup™ and is one of the most beautiful countries in the world.
The banning order for against major sporting codes such as rugby, netball and cricket will have a detrimental impact on sports tourism. The National Sports Tourism Strategy acknowledges that sports tourism contributes around R 6 billion to the economy and 10% of arrivals come to participate or to watch sports events. The arrival of Leicester City and the pursuit of other EPL teams to come to South Africa would offset the ban by the Minister of Sports and Recreations. Leicester City and Robben Island in South Africa are both examples of the triumph of the human spirit against all odds, let the games begin!
Mr. Unathi Sonwabile Henama teaches tourism at the Tshwane University of Technology, and writes in his personal capacity.