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South Africa takes German lessons as World Cup edges closer

With just one week to go, South Africa is putting the final touches on its World Cup preparations. The host nation is hoping to reap the same benefits Germany did four years ago.

South African fans wearing decorated miner's hat 'makarapas'

South African fans are hoping to emulate Germany on and off the field

South Africa is abuzz with activity with just one week to go to the kick-off of the 2010 FIFA World Cup in Johannesburg on June 11. From transport and tourist arrangements to stadiums and soccer, officials and entrepreneurs in South Africa's nine host cities have been finalizing their arrangements to ensure the country is ready for the long-awaited football extravaganza.

They've been drawing on the experience of Germany, which hosted the 2006 competition. Although Germany failed to lift the trophy, the country did win in other respects: its international image received a massive boost and consumer confidence shot up. This time round, South Africa is keen to reap the same benefits.

The country has taken a risk by investing billions of euros in infrastructure, stadiums and roads in preparation for the big event. The goal is to increase foreign tourism, trade and investment long after the final whistle is blown.

Nikolaus Eberl, a German branding expert who is in South Africa to help the country with its marketing and branding ahead of the 2010 competition, believes South Africa can learn from Germany, which rebranded itself as a "welcoming, fun, modern and innovative nation" during the last World Cup.

"Germans took a hard look at their image as 'effective but unfriendly,'" he said. "And then devised a nation-building strategy that promised the world 'a time to make friends.'" The strategy paid off and tourism shot up 31 percent soon after the end of the World Cup. Unemployment also dropped and exports increased.

football fans against the backdrop of Frankfurt city skyline

Germany's international image improved dramatically as fans reveled at the last World Cup

Success not confined to the pitch

In his book, "Brand Ovation - How Germany won the World Cup of Nation Branding," Eberl says 91 percent of visitors to Germany's World Cup recommended the country as a holiday destination and depicted Germans as "open-minded, friendly and welcoming."

Germany also propelled itself from seventh to second most valued brand in the 2006 Nation Brands Index (Anholt-GMI Q3/2006).

South Africa is hoping to pick up where Germany left off through its "Welcoming the World to Africa" slogan, backed up by a range of initiatives.

Cities are staging welcoming campaigns, service personnel have been trained to be ambassadors, people are learning French, German, Spanish and Italian, while thousands of people will help in and around the stadiums as volunteers.

Green-Point-Stadium in Cape Town

New stadiums like Green-Point in Cape Town aim to help project a modern image of South Africa

One of them is German national, Lawrence Langer. He works in community development in South Africa and is involved in the Football for Hope program in South Africa which spans townships across the country.

"I experienced Germany's World Cup, and it was amazing how people opened up in the excitement of the event," he said. This experience only made him more determined to be involved in South Africa's World Cup.

"I knew I wanted to be part of this," said Sharon Banda, another volunteer. "Meeting people from all over the world and showing them how great Africa is."

'Brand advocates' make up for drop in expected visitors

Football fever has been rising as the tournament draws closer. In Johannesburg and other cities, South African flags and those of the 32 nations competing in the World Cup are flying from car windows - and the excitement is palpable.

Initially South Africa had estimated that 400,000 visitors would be coming to the country for the World Cup. However, South Africa's Tourism Minister, Marthinus van Schalkwyk, announced that closer to 300,000 fans were expected from across the globe.

While the direct numbers may be down, Eberl estimates that for each visitor to the World Cup, another 150 will be indirectly influenced in their perceptions about the host country, through word-of-mouth by the fans when they return home. And these brand advocates could hold the key to long-term benefits for South Africa.

FIFA World Cup 2010 logo

The most important branding South Africa is hoping for will come from the fans themselves

South Africa is also banking on the global television coverage it gets when matches are screened worldwide.

The World Cup offers South Africa the opportunity to market the country as a business destination and a springboard into developing markets in the southern African region.

Matthias Boddenberg, chief executive of the Southern African German Chamber of Commerce, said South Africa should focus on promoting trade and investment in areas like mining and energy, particularly the use of renewable energy and exports from its manufacturing sector.

"South Africa is a beautiful country offering unbelievable opportunities," he said. "But it is also a country facing big challenges in terms of inequality and crime. South Africa should not fall into the trap of painting a perfect picture. The message should be realistic, yet optimistic."

Author: Kim Cloete in South Africa
Editor: Rob Turner

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