BLOEMFONTEIN, South Africa — Dressed in his Blue Samurai outfit, Mitsutaka Kurata ponders the charms of South Africa’s judicial capital before delivering his verdict on whether he plans to hang around.
“We hired a bus to take us to Bloemfontein and we are going back immediately after the match,” said Kurata, part of a group of around 30 Japanese compatriots who are on a month-long South African World Cup odyssey.
Japanese tourists have a reputation as big spenders and their team’s first round fixtures should have signalled a commercial bonanza for both Bloemfontein and Rustenburg, two of the smaller of the nine World Cup host cities.
But instead of coming in a day before or spending the night after the match, many supporters are in and out within a matter of hours.
Bloemfontein, capital of Free State province and which markets itself as the City of Roses, has been pulling out the stops for World Cup visitors.
A special all-day bus service is operating throughout the tournament to take fans from the city centre to a fan park with large beer and food tents, and organised events such as five-a-side games.
But despite the efforts to lure visitors, few hotels have been putting up the “No Vacancies” signs even on match days.
George Mohlakoana, the World Cup organisers’ pointman in Bloemfontein, says that hotel booking were running at around 80 percent. Many World Cup visitors who do stay overnight choose to stay with friends.
“Although most matches are sold out, the tickets are bought by locals therefore easing the demand for accommodation in town,” he told AFP.
“Those who want to stay after the match normally stay with friends.
Pieter van Rooyen, manager of the city’s Protea hotel, said that his establishment was full on match days, mainly with foreign visitors and journalists.
“But on the days in-between games we are not as busy,” he added.
First-round matches are being held at three kick-off times — lunchtime, early afternoon and evening.
Most of the evening matches are taking place in the big cities such as Cape Town, Johannesburg, Pretoria and Durban.
Samuel Achu, a Cameroon supporter who has based himself in Johannesburg, drove back immediately after Monday afternoon’s game against Japan.
“It’s just convenient for me to drive … I bought my tickets late and the Johannesburg games were sold out. I got tickets for Bloemfontein and Rustenburg,” Achu said.
Hotels in Rustenburg, around two hours’ drive north of Johannesburg, have also rarely been full except last Saturday night when England played the United States.
Bloemfontein, a city with a laid-back air which is best known as the venue of the country’s appeal court, has few of the late-night attractions offered by other cities.
But its residents say it is a pity that the World Cup visitors are not hanging around to get a fuller picture.
“I wish they could see the other side of South Africa, where we live,” said Mpho Motene, a sales assistant at a clothing store who lives in a township just outside the city.
Even if the boost to the local economy is limited, others were delighted to be playing host even for a matter of hours.
“Wow this is great, I have never seen so many Chinese people in my life,” Retabile Mokopong, a cleaner, said in reference to the Japanese fans.
“We don’t know what they saying, but this evening we will speak one language — soccer.”