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Cape Town sails out in front as top sport destination

  • Story Highlights
  • MainSail's 'Port of the Month' is Cape Town, South Africa
  • The area is one of South Africa's most popular tourist destinations
  • Cape Town is set to benefit from major international sporting events
  • The port is the country's second biggest and hosts major yacht races
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By Olivia Sterns
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LONDON, England (CNN) -- A series of major international sporting events, a weak currency and its perennially sunny perch on the tip of South Africa are making Cape Town one of the hottest sailing destinations of 2009.

Lucky strike: The port city of Cape Town is set to benefit from several major sporting events

Lucky strike: The port city of Cape Town is set to benefit from several major sporting events

The Indian Premier League cricket tournament was recently relocated to South Africa because of security concerns, and now Cape Town is slated to host the opening match on April 18.

Both the Lions Tour rugby and the FIFA Confederations Cup football will follow the cricket tournament, heading down to South Africa later this year.

Combined with the arrival of the World Cup in 2010, South Africa has suddenly become the ultimate holiday spot for sports fans.

Calvyn Gilfellan, chief executive of Cape Town Routes Unlimited -- the region's tourism board -- told CNN the boost to the region had arrived at a crucial time.

"When the financial crisis started people went into gloom and doom but these events are helping a lot to restore confidence in the industry.

"The fact that we have a positive exchange rate also helps us a lot as a destination," he said.

But South Africa's government is so focused on ensuring the success of the upcoming games that it recently denied a visa to The Dalai Lama.

Critics contend that South Africa bowed to pressure from the Chinese government in refusing Tibet's spiritual leader entry to attend a peace conference that was partially intended to help promote the World Cup.

As the focus strengthens on these international events, the Cape Town region looks set to benefit more than many from the expected surge in tourism.

Gilfellan says this is largely due to the city's location.

"We are lucky to be in such a wonderful spot. A lot of these events revolve around the marine industry and revolve around the harbor."

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This weekend harbor will play host to the Cape Town International Jazz Festival -- one of many upcoming festivals in the area.

Cape Town's picturesque Victoria & Alfred Waterfront, set against the backdrop of Table Mountain, has become South Africa's most visited tourist attraction.

Commodore of the Royal Cape Yacht Club (RCYC) John Martin, told CNN the Cape Town port was used widely for business, leisure and sports.

As well as being the country's second biggest functioning port for trade, the port played host to racing yachts in events such as the Volvo Ocean Race and the Clipper Round-the-world Challenge.

"We have several major yachting events that stop here and we are very proud of that."

Martin said the popularity of the port means water space is "at a premium," but there are hopes a new harbor and breakwater will be constructed in the next few years.

Still, Cape Town has the capacity to cater for foreign visitors on super-yachts and international cruise-liners.

"Cape Town is a real focal point for refueling and repairs and it's also quite cheap here so people tend to stay for a while," he said.

Gilfellan said she felt the surge of massive sporting events would undoubtedly have spin-off benefits for the marine industry.

The Indian Premier League Twenty20 cricket, which starts this month, had been tipped to go to England, but ultimately South Africa was chosen for its sunny weather. The tournament, which will feature 59 matches across six venues, will run from 18 April to 24 May

The 2009 British and Irish Lions tour officially kicks off on May 30 in Rustenberg. Matches will be held in Cape Town on June 13 and June 23.

The eight-team Confederations Cup runs from June 14-28, and will take place across four cities. The event marks the first time an African nation will host an international FIFA tournament.

The landmark event foreshadows the much-anticipated World Cup football tournament in June 2010, for which qualifying matches are currently being held.

Although that's still a year away -- there are signs that the excitement in South Africa is already palpable.

A new television commercial that began airing last month features Spain and Liverpool star, Fernando Torres, and Brazilian icon Kaka showing off their football skills.

The advertisement ends with Torres saying "Ke Nako", which in South Africa's Sotho language means "it's time."

It seems for Cape Town and the whole country -- this could not be more true.

Mike Steere contributed to this report.

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