Whether or not the country’s Wallabies rugby team retain the Webb Ellis trophy on Saturday against England, is really quite immaterial.
Tens of thousands of visiting fans are estimated to have spent about US$720 million in the past six weeks.
The revenue is helping an economy already sprinting out of a soft patch early this year.
Rugby fans Dave and Hugh from Hertfordshire in England flew into Sydney for a week on Thursday, having spent $1000 each on a ticket to the final.
The pair hoped to secure tickets for the France/New Zealand third-place play-off, climb the Sydney harbour bridge and take in a boat cruise.
“The whole trip has cost us a few grand [thousand]. But hey, we think we are in with real chance on Saturday. It’s a once in a lifetime event,” Hugh said, while paying for his round of drinks at a city hotel.
Before the tournament began, Stephen Halmarick, director economic and market analysis at Citigroup, predicted the cup would generate income worth 0.1 to 0.2% of Australia’s gross domestic product.
Economists expect economic growth of about 3.3% in the current year to 30 June 2004.
But with a large contingent of English fans still in the country, the economy could get an even bigger boost.
“I think there is about 30,000 of them here. If anything you would have to say given the schedule of the way the final worked out… given the anecdotal evidence of how full aircraft and hotels are… there is probably upside risk to our estimate,” Halmarick said.
Companies such as Qantas Airways Ltd and British Airways Plc, the official airlines for the tournament, and brewers Fosters Group Ltd and Lion Nathan Ltd, should get a lift too.
So far 1.69 million fans have attended the 46 games, involving 20 teams that have been played across Australia – a remarkably high turnout, given Australia’s population of just under 20 million.
Sydney hosted both semi-finals, and will also stage the last two clashes – the third/fourth play-off between New Zealand and France on Thursday and the Saturday’s final.
The Australian Tourism Commission said nearly 62,300 people arrived from Britain in October, up 14% on normal levels and November should also be up with England in the final.
Unlike the 2000 Olympics, matches have only been played in the evening, freeing people to sightsee during the day and have been country-wide rather than just in Sydney.
“The Rugby World Cup was just the free kick the tourism industry needed in an otherwise difficult year,” said Craig James, senior analyst at Commonwealth Securities.
So tourism – that had took a massive hit during the SARS outbreak and the war in Iraq earlier this year – seems to be back to normal at a time when the country was suffering from its worst drought in more than 100 years.