x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Challenges facing the crisis-torn Rugby World Cup hosts

New Zealand expects 95,000 visitors during the seven-week event, but spectators have been put off by the hike in hotel prices and ticket costs.

WELLINGTON, New Zealand // The weather forecast for the seven-week Rugby World Cup is "unsettled". A week from the opening match, the outlook for the tournament itself is murky, too.

As the 20 teams arrive, fanning out to bases around New Zealand, questions remain about how the nation of four million will cope with staging an event billed as the fourth most-watched in world sport.

New Zealand expects to receive as many as 95,000 international visitors during the World Cup and is counting on the event to help its fragile economy recover from the effects of a global recession and devastating earthquakes that killed 181 people in the southern city of Christchurch.

New Zealand desperately needs the World Cup to succeed and organisers are confident the tournament will be the showpiece rugby expects, but a week from the start, there are still muted concerns.

Of the targeted ticket sales, 170,000 seats remain unsold. Organisers remain confident the pace of sales will increase in the week before the opening match, and say the experience of other major sports events is that demand becomes greatest when the games begin.

But Mike Miller, the International Rugby Board (IRB) chief executive, chided New Zealanders, for being slow to support the World Cup.

"My main concern is that you're not going to get [the] Rugby World Cup back here for a long time," Miller said. "There are lots of countries around the world that want to host the Rugby World Cup, so people should take advantage of it while it's here."

New Zealanders have expressed concern that, for several reasons, they have been unable to participate in the World Cup as fully as they would have liked. Ticket prices start at around NZ$25 (Dh78) for pool matches but rise to $402 for prime seats at quarter-finals, $650 for semi-finals and $1,050 for the final at the 60,000-seated Eden Park.

The average wage in New Zealand is about $42,500, pricing prime tickets beyond the reach of most Kiwis. High hotel prices also have discouraged many from travelling to the games.

Organisers have counted on New Zealand's nearest neighbour, Australia, to provide the largest share of visitors, but travel agents say, despite extensive marketing campaigns, Australians are wary.

Michael Jones, the general manager of Australia's Total Sports Travel, said high hotel prices had deterred many Australians.

"People do question that they feel it's overpriced because most Australians have been to New Zealand at some time or another and at normal times they can go for a lot cheaper," Jones told the New Zealand Herald. "The hotels haven't been exactly kind in some of their rates. There's been a lot of greed. Not in all cases, but there have been some examples of price-gouging, so to speak."

A New Zealand Herald survey in June showed Auckland hotels would be charging, on average, three times their usual rates for a room during finals weekend, though some rooms were being let at up to 15 times normal rates.