AS the City of Saints officially opens the 38th National Arts Festival tonight, hotels, restaurants, bars and businesses are already in full swing with visitors from all quarters arriving to experience the country’s premier arts showcase.
Tonight sees the official opening of the festival at the Rhodes University Guy Butler Theatre, under the hand of Arts and Culture Minister Paul Mashatile.
The festival brings hundreds of stage acts, musicians, street performers, artists and craftsmen from around the country to the Eastern Cape university town for 10 days every year.
Businesses said yesterday they were expecting a bumper festival.
Owner of Bella’s Guesthouse in Milner Street Niel Perold said the festival period marked a clear rise in his bookings every year.
"We’ve been fully booked from March. It’s a really nice time to be in Grahamstown,” he said.
Closer to the city centre of High Street, the Graham Hotel experiences similarly high customer numbers every year. Owner Pierre Repinz said despite adding more rooms to the establishment in recent years, the demand for accommodation never left anything unbooked during the festival.
"We’ve seen the festival go from strength to strength over the last few years. Every single year we manage to fill up all of our rooms, most times months in advance,” he said.
The hotel is one of many side venues that host musical acts over the course of the festival.
Opening the doors of its Albany Room lounge, this year it features acts such as folk guitarist Tony Cox.
The newly reopened Champs Action Bar, just off High Street, will be featuring a steady lineup of local and national musicians, as well as poetry readings, every night of the week.
Manager Mike Theron said: "Next week is going to be fantastic. The music we’ve got on offer has a wide appeal, and we’re expecting all sorts of people as a result. Everybody, old and young, will have something to listen to here.”
Festival organisers have said that prospects for this year’s attendance were looking good.
Festival spokesman Gilly Hemphill said: "Early indications are that we're going to have a strong turnout.
"Shows are selling well, with a healthy crop of sold-out performances. With about 3000 performances on offer, though, there is still plenty to see in Grahamstown, and we are prepared for an influx of visitors from Thursday.”
Meanwhile, Rhodes University residence rooms have been rented out to visitors for the duration of the festival, with guests arriving since Sunday.
Grahamstown police have had their numbers swollen as well, bringing in an additional 100 officers from cities and towns across the province.