The constantly talked about Rugby World Cup is almost upon us and rugby fever is running hot already with the local ITM Cup underway. Tickets to games have sold like hotcakes and everyone within the travel and tourism industry is geared up and ready to fire on all cylinders to capitalise on this major sporting event.

But are we really going up to cope with an influx of some 85,000 visitors over the 45 day period of the competition? Will we be ready come the Pool Phase which kicks off in early September?

I’m hoping that the hospitality industry in general has remembered to clean the sparkplugs, change the oil and top up the radiator,
rather than just perform a quick valet service!

With any luck, my two recent experiences of baggage delays at Auckland International Airport were isolated incidences. When you’re
arriving on the first plane of the day at 4am and clear through the immigration process within a matter of minutes, you don’t then expect to wait some 45 minutes for your luggage. Mind you, ten days later and at 2pm there was a similar delay with only three planes arriving simultaneously. But the airport looks good, I’ll say that much!

Then there’s transportation … a recent cab ride with a reputable firm had the driver hauling out a map book to negotiate a route from the CBD to Mission Bay! Heaven help a foreign speaking tourist faced with the same dilemma!

The Ministries of Tourism and Economic Development have pointed out that we had more than 193,000 international visitors in the country on 15 February 2008 and therefore believe that, with the anticipated numbers for RWC spread throughout the country, we’ll cope. My fear is that the spread is actually rather concentrated, in some cases in fairly small towns. Auckland is very likely to be at capacity on Final and Semi-Final weekends, especially with the large volume of corporate activity that is planned. Invercargill, Dunedin, Nelson, Wellington and Auckland are now expected to cope with volumes previously aimed at Christchurch. While the level of visitors for RWC may not be considered a “peak” season, and these visitors will be spread for the most part the length and breadth of New Zealand, the concentration levels at game time is likely to be extreme.

For the sake of visitors’ enjoyment of our largest city, and for the sake of our reputation as an international host, I truly hope things operate like a well-oiled and highly tuned engine. After all, the world will be watching!

Safe travels.

“An involuntary return to the point of departure is, without a doubt, the most disturbing of all journeys” – Iain Sinclair (June 11, 1943)