JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - The World Cup in South Africa has attracted far more foreign fans than expected, adding to revenue and the already sizable long term benefit of a successful tournament, Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan said on Friday.
A relatively trouble-free competition, dispelling earlier fears criminals would target visitors, have helped lure more soccer fans, particularly from South America.
"The numbers already indicate that the numbers of people coming to this country are far higher than anybody thought," Gordhan told reporters at the Soccer City stadium that will host the final match on July 11.
"At one stage we were talking about 300 and something thousand and then down to 250,000 and probably we're closer to the 500,000 figure now. In June alone, there were about 200,000 people that came in ... that's where the revenue would come in."
South Africa had originally expected about 450,000 foreigners but a global downturn and media reports abroad about high violent crime rates had seen ticket sales outside the country, and that estimate, fall sharply.
However, fans have largely been safe, with no major incidents of violent crime and games over the past three weeks have been well attended.
Gordhan said it was encouraging to see more South American visitors, which was not traditionally a source of tourists to South Africa. Four teams from South America, including soccer powerhouses Brazil and Argentina, are in the quarter-finals.
The extra fans could lead to a higher boost to the economy than the government's estimate of 0.4 percentage points added to economic growth this year.
"Again in a month or two I'll be able to give more accurate data," he said. "Clearly people are coming into South Africa in large numbers, they are spending money in substantial amounts as well."
Gordhan said the tournament had helped create about 130,000 jobs, mostly in construction leading up to the event.
But the most important benefit of the World Cup was the legacy it would leave, especially the improved image portrayed to the world that may attract more tourists in future and the new infrastructure that will serve its people for generations.
"Today South Africa is on the map ... we have developed a reputation of a country that can deliver," he said.
South Africa's national government spent just under 34 billion rand ($4.40 billion) over the past six years to prepare for the tournament, with more than 13 billion rand on improving public transport alone.
Editing by Jon Bramley