RUSSIA/INTERNATIONAL. Which countries are most gripped by World Cup fever? That’s the question analyst ForwardKeys sought to answer in assessing the uplift in visitor arrivals to Russia from 4 June to 15 July, when World Cup ticket holders do not need a visa to enter the country.

Top of the list is a country that did not even qualify for the tournament – the USA. “This result may seem surprising but interest in the sport has grown strongly since the 1994 World Cup when it was the host nation,” ForwardKeys explained.

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The analyst also noted that the USA is the largest outbound travel market in the world and that it has a sizable Latin segment in its population.

There will be nearly twice as many Americans in Russia during the World Cup as the next highest ranked nation – traditional football powerhouse Brazil.

These countries are followed in visitor arrival uplift by Spain, Argentina, South Korea, Mexico, China, the UK, Germany and Egypt.

ForwardKeys also offered an alternative method of ranking countries, benchmarking them against the number of visitors that came to Russia during the equivalent period last year.

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Paraguay tops the list using that method, with over 52 times as many travellers from the South American country coming to Russia for the World Cup as visited in 2017. It is followed, in order, by Peru (which last qualified for the finals in 1982), Panama, Nigeria, Tunisia, Bangladesh, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Colombia and Morocco.

ForwardKeys said one notable absentee from the top 50 list is Belgium. The country has qualified for the World Cup but did not make the cut in either of the analyses. A possible explanation is the collapse of Vim Airlines last autumn, the analyst said. “The airline had a sizable share of flights between Brussels and Russia so many Belgians are likely flying from neighbouring countries instead,” it said.

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ForwardKeys CEO Olivier Jager said: “It is interesting to compare the different methods for assessing World Cup fever. On one approach, the list is headed by small countries, whose populations rarely visit Russia, so the uplift multiples of the top-ranked countries are enormous. However, the alternative approach tells you where the largest numbers of fans are coming from.

“Nevertheless, what I find fascinating is that whichever method one uses to assess World Cup fever, the top country is one that has not qualified for the finals. If anything, that illustrates the global appeal of football. My observation is that only four countries make the top 15 on both methods: Brazil, Egypt, Mexico and Peru. So perhaps we should say they are the ones most gripped by World Cup fever.”

*If you too are gripped by World Cup fever, or simply want to compete to help a charity of your choice, then sign up for the Great Moodie Davitt 2018 FIFA World Cup Charity Competition here.

The Moodie Davitt Report has created a private league in a World Cup 2018 match prediction competition, and all in the travel retail community are invited to participate