Game on!

Don’t give up on the FIFA World Cup just yet, says KEITH J FERNANDEZ. Both hotel rooms and match tickets for the year’s biggest party are still up for grabs

UP at the rarefied Ritz-Carlton Berlin, rooms during the FIFA World Cup final are sold out.

But that’s about it. Almost everywhere else across the city – and in Germany – there are still rooms aplenty. “If you’ve got a ticket, you can get a room,” went the echo at last month’s Germany Travel Mart, the country’s biggest inbound tourism event.
Germany is in the not unique situation of having a world sporting body drop back one million hotel room nights just before a major world sports event because the organising body could not sell enough. “The FIFA Accommodation Service contr-acted more rooms than they were able to sell. They have released them back to the hotels who have to move these rooms themselves, which actually is a good situation for guests,” says Heike Murad, of the German National Tourist Office (GNTO) in Dubai. More than three million fans are expected to pack in the stadiums, there are now enough rooms available at very good prices all through the month-long event, in or around every one of the 12 cities that will see kick-offs.
Some tourist bodies, of course, are not very pleased at all. Berlin Tourismus Marketing (BTM), which expects an additional 200,000 guest arrivals with 700,000 overnight stays and a 90 per cent occupancy rate during the event, has had returns on 5,000 of the 8,000 bed allotment booked. “In effect, Berlin’s hotels lost the chance to sell their rooms at rates that correspond to the high standard and service level of the individual properties,” says the BTM’s Christian Tänzler. “Hotels are now relying on last-minute business and the World Cup has not brought about the desired result of taking Berlin’s low hotel rates to international levels.” The average four- and five-star room in Berlin costs 127 euros ($162), far below Paris (282 euros) and London (277 euros).
“But we’re confident the rooms will fill up, as soon as the first World Cup images from Berlin are broadcast around the globe,” he says.
As it turns out now, tickets to the matches are also available. The newspaper Sueddeutsche Zeitung said a total of 70,000 tickets bought by the Swiss marketing company ISE for 170 million euros have not been sold, including some for the opening match and may become available for around 300 euros as the World Cup Organising Committee urges ISE to make returns.
As ever, the wise operators have planned in advance: over at Emirates Holidays, which has been advertising World Cup packages inclusive of tickets for a couple of months now, everything for the early rounds has gone, but they’re expecting a rush of bookings later in the tournament, says the company’s Alan Ewens.
Other operators, too, say nobody wants the later rounds until England gets through. Or Saudi Arabia. Or Brazil. “We will see a rush on bookings as fans find out where their teams are going to play,” says GNTO’s Murad.
Those looking for a party, however, can simply book now: every German town will have at least one public viewing event. Frankfurt promises to outdo them all with screens in the middle of the Main River and viewing tables on both banks, according to an executive at the city’s Arabella Sheraton hotels.
The Cologne Tourist Board’s Klaus Odenthal  says the city is putting up a massive screen in front of its landmark cathedral. “We’ve got 6000 Brazilian fans and at least a couple of thousand Mexican fans staying in the city, so it will be singing and swinging all the way to the final.” To squeeze in some culture between play-offs, he suggests the city’s Germany Olympic and Sports Museum.
Room returns or not, sums up Murad, everybody’s set to benefit. “Massive private- and public-sector investment in sports, transport and accommodation infrastructure, plus money spent by fans travelling to Germany, will stimulate overall economic growth. The World Cup is set to contribute some two billion euros to Germany’s GDP for 2006, about 0.2 percentage points.” This is also expected to create additional value of about a billion euros in 2007 and 2008, and from 2006 to 2008, foreign visitors could stump up another one billion in extra consumer spending as a result of the World Cup.
Hopefully, next time such an event plays off, they’ll have figured out a solution. Say, in time for the London Olympics?