The stalling or collapse of key projects worth an estimated R10-billion, which should have been completed by the time the soccer World Cup starts in 2010, could have a major negative impact on the region‘s long-term tourism ambitions.

Tourism experts believe plans for the Eastern and Southern Cape to successfully host tens of thousands of World Cup fans have been jeopardised after the indefinite delay or entire collapse of projects which would have better equipped the region for the event.

If the projects were completed in time for the spectacle, foreign visitors would have a first-class taste of the region, tourism insiders say.

This would give a much-needed boost to the industry, securing thousands of future international tourists.

According to industry sources, not only would it mean first-time visitors would return for future holidays, but word- of-mouth recommendations – a major point of sale in the tourism business – would boost future visitor numbers.

But due to countless delays and political indifference, several key projects which have been in the pipeline for years have been put on hold and will not be ready in time for the World Cup.

They include:

The R5-billion Madiba Bay Leisure Park outside Port Elizabeth;

The construction of the R1,6-billionWild Coast coastal road, the Wild Coast Meander;

The R500-million overhaul of Port Elizabeth‘s Bayworld;

The R500-million construction of the Mthatha stadium;

The R500-million-plus construction of the Knysna N2 bypass;

The R100-million redevelopment of Port Elizabeth‘s old Tramways building;

The multimillion rand upgrade of the N2 between Grahamstown and Bhisho;

The multimillion rand transformation of the R72 between Port Elizabeth and East London into a multi-lane toll road; and

The multimillion rand extension of the Port Elizabeth Airport runway.

Bay tourism specialist Peter Myles said according to research, almost 40 per cent of first-time visitors to a “world event” like the soccer World Cup returned to the host country for a holiday within two to three years.

But he warned: “If it‘s a bad experience they won‘t come back. We have to put our best foot forward, because many positive aspects can be cancelled out by one or two negative experiences. You‘re showcasing the country as well as the host cities, so you need to show the very best you have and not have to apologise for what you don‘t have.”

Earlier this month, Madiba Bay Leisure Park developers East Cape Showcase (Pty) Ltd – which first announced the plan in 2002 – issued a letter of demand to the Bay municipality claiming damages of R1-billion.

Although construction was to have begun early this year, wrangling between the developers and the municipality, as well as a stalled Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) application which is required before construction can begin, has delayed the project.

Spanning 5577ha of land stretching from Cape Recife to Sardinia Bay, it is planned to include hotels and golf courses, a R100-million retail centre and a R1,2-billion lifestyle centre.

The road linking the remote coastal resorts between Kei Mouth and Port St Johns has been delayed for almost eight years. In 2002 the roads and transport department allocated R255- million for the 300km Wild Coast Meander to be built, but constant delays with the EIA, as well as plans for the route, saw the project stalled.

In March this year Transport MEC Thobile Mhlahlo said the road, which would now cost R1,6-billion, would be built over the next six years.

For Bay tourist attraction Bayworld, giving the museum, oceanarium and snake park complex a much-needed full-scale revamp ahead of the World Cup is now a pipe dream. First proposed in the late ‘90s, the cost of redevelopment has spiralled from R200-million to more than R500-million – money that has yet to be sourced.

Although a R5,4-million “cosmetic upgrade” is under way, Bayworld spokesman Elouise Matthys said unforeseen problems meant additional funds must now be sought.

In Mthatha, a legal dispute is looming between the municipality and the local community over the ground on which the R500-million Mthatha stadium is to be built.

And there will be no easing of traffic congestion along the Garden Route as Knysna‘s controversial R500-million- plus N2 bypass, almost two decades in the planning, is still stalled.

The R100-million restoration of the Bay‘s old PE Tramways building, originally earmarked to start in April this year, has also been delayed.

A historical impact assessment (HIA) of the proposed restoration – which is to convert the dilapidated building to house a conference centre, restaurants and a nightclub – undertaken by the Mandela Bay Development Agency (MBDA) has seen the HIA‘s author, respected architect Albrecht Herholdt, recommend the entire design be reconsidered.

AUTHOR: Brian Hayward