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Issue 11
Africa Travel> Issue 11
UPDATED: December 30, 2014
How Can Africa Attract More Chinese Tourists in 2015?
The challenges to put the continent on the Chinese outbound radar
By Jo Kromberg

About $140 billion. What is this number, you might wonder. The price of an annual return season ticket to Mars for the next 20 generations? The cost of America's "war on terror" per year? No. Or maybe, I don't know. What I do know is that this is the estimated amount spent globally by outbound Chinese tourists during 2014. Sounds a lot – and it is – and to put it in perspective, it is almost half of the Gross Domestic Product of South Africa, the second biggest economy in Africa.

The governments of China and South Africa have close partnerships and extensive trade agreements and two years ago they launched a mutual awareness campaign aimed at creating better understanding between the two nations. Last year saw the so-called Year of South Africa in China and this year it is the Year of China in South Africa. Colorful promotions and activities to show South Africans ancient and modern China are planned across the country. This is all well and good but one of the major objectives of the campaign is increased tourism from China. And with good reason, given the above global spending figures.

Africa must up its game

China has moved from being South Africa's ninth-largest tourism source market to the fourth-largest in 2013, after a year-on-year increase in tourist arrivals of more than 30 percent, says South African Tourism. According to the Skift Travel Report, outbound tourism from China continues to rise year-on-year, climbing globally by 8 percent in 2014 from 2013. The problem is, the entire continent of Africa reportedly only welcomes about 3 percent Chinese visitors of the 47 million tourists who visit Africa each year, even though the Chinese made 1.7 million trips to Africa in the first six months of last year, an increase of about 150 percent compared with 2013. The growth may be impressive but then any growth is impressive coming off such a low base. As a continent, Africa is still woefully behind in the scramble for the tourism Chinese Yuan.

Why? Well, one might surmise that one of the main reasons might be Ebola. It is after all a deadly virus for which there is no cure and it has made global headlines for a major part of 2014. But Yang Jinsong, a professor specializing in international tourism with the China Tourism Academy, does not think Ebola will greatly damage the tourism market in Africa. "Ebola is pretty much confined in West Africa, where Chinese make very few visits anyway. I don't think the epidemic will affect the tourism market in Africa much in the future, "says Yang.

Well…. That depends on where you get your information. In a massive blunder, the China National Tourism Administration website last year erroneously placed South Africa at the top of its list of Ebola-affected African nations, leading to a staggering 90 percent of Chinese tourists on their way to South Africa in September last year canceling their plans. The error has since been rectified.

Aside from this temporary "misunderstanding", the underlying problems are African ignorance of the size and scope of the market, specific preferences of the market itself – and therefore product adaptation and appropriate staff training - and a gargantuan lack of marketing efforts in the source country, namely China. According to Lina Ayenew, writing for China Daily recently: "Beyond the development of tourism infrastructure and adjustment of offerings, marketing efforts (from African countries) are also essential. A survey of journalists working in China's leading travel magazines, including Lonely Planet, China Tourism News and Voyage, reveals that Chinese travelers are only familiar with a few African countries: Egypt, Kenya, Mauritius, Seychelles, South Africa, Tanzania and Tunisia." (http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/world/2014-11/28/content_18995311.htm)

Creating awareness

Only South Africa, Zimbabwe, Namibia and Morocco have tourism promotion agencies in China. When I needed a property group to host me in Zambia last year as per a request from Conde Nast Traveler China for a feature article on this African country, Norman Carr Safaris, to their credit, bent over backwards to accommodate my photographer and I in the high season, indicating that they are very aware of the importance of the high-end Chinese market. Zambia attracted 67,000 Chinese visitors last year. Unfortunately, I don't always have this type of response when I say that I write to create awareness of African destinations for the Chinese. A lot of ignorance and prejudice still unfortunately remains regarding Chinese visitors, but places like the Seychelles, Maldives and Mauritius have made great strides in terms of educating themselves about the market. Still – a lot more needs to be done. It seems that few African countries have realized the importance of the "prestige element", culturally important historical sites and the novelty factor which Africa represents for the Chinese, relatively common factors in an emerging tourism market. An example of excellent and consistently targeted marketing to the Chinese is the Voortrekker Monument (VTM) in Pretoria, South Africa. This historically important monument was awarded the overall gold winner award at the China Outbound Tourism and Trade Market in Beijing in 2013. There were five categories for achievement, each with a bronze, silver and gold award. The ceremony was attended by about 150 tour operators and other prominent role players in the tourism industry, amongst others America, Africa and Europe.

Nearly 50 percent of all Chinese visitors to South Africa come to the Monument, which they view as one of their preferred destinations. The fact that Chinese visitors to the Monument had grown by 45 percent during that year, was a contributing factor in the Monument receiving the overall winner award at the show in China. The rest of Africa can take a lesson from Managing Director of the Monument, Ms Sonja Lombard. Together with her excellent team, she saw the potential of the Chinese market many years ago and actively started marketing her product in China. The Monument website is available in Chinese they provide Chinese language guide books and explanatory panels which makes it easier for visitors to understand the historical background that lead to the building of the Monument. This award to the VTM confirms the growing perception that it is a hospitable centre of excellence, both as a heritage institution and as a tourism destination. Southern Sun, a South African hotel group with an African presence, was awarded a bronze award in the innovation category.


With visitor numbers from China to South Africa set to grow by 22.5 percent in the period 2013 to 2018, according to Euromonitor, one would think that South Africa is pulling out all the stops to romance this market. The sad fact is, they're not. One of the biggest factors deterring Chinese travelers to South Africa is the crime rate. Yet, despite numerous calls over the years from opposition parties and private stake-holders to institute a dedicated tourism police unit, nothing has been done about this. The other major issue now standing in the way of a growing Chinese tourism market is the recent short-sighted implementation of South Africa's new immigration regulations which include biometric visas for tourists, requiring applicants to appear in person. China only had two centers in Beijing and Shanghai where would-be travelers can report for in-person biometric data capture - namely fingerprinting and photographs. Many tourists come from outside these major centers and the extra cost and traveling time might discourage them from coming to South Africa.

This is in direct contrast to utterances by The South African Department of Tourism's director-general Kingsley Makhubela last year, who said that the country is looking to grow the number of tourists from China significantly "because even a small percentage of the market is substantial".

A positive initiative is the fact that next year has been designated the Year of China in South Africa – which should help to raise much awareness.

Plans to get Chinese visitors to Africa

But South Africa aside, this is how at least five other African countries are attracting, or plan on attracting, the Chinese market:

Kenya: Kenya is eyeing a million Chinese tourists annually in the coming years. Tourism analyst Sandra Rwese, a Kenyan who lives in China, the answer lies in adopting innovative marketing methods that reach as many potential tourists as possible. (source: http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/africa/2014-02/28/c_133150885.htm). Top on her list is tourism stakeholders using social media to encourage participation in travel experiences in Kenya. "Chinese online communities host millions of users daily. Interactive social platforms like WeChat, QZone, Sina Weibo, RenRen and Pengyou are used obsessively by the Chinese masses. Everywhere you go in China, you'll see scores of people busily browsing their smart phones, fixated on social channels 24-hours a day," she noted. Kenya's tourism stakeholders should thus exploit use of the platforms if they are to attract tourists from China, according to her. According to another Kenyan entrepreneur, the best way to begin engagement with Chinese tourists is hiring hotel staff that speak a Chinese language. Other tips to cater to Chinese guests include avoid giving rooms on the fourth floor for Chinese and offer green tea instead of coffee. In terms of private companies in Kenya, The Safari Collection, Governors' Camp and Loisaba Wilderness are working with Chinese tour companies to promote their luxury services in China.

Egypt: Egyptian President Morsi met with tourism officials in Beijing last summer to strategize ways to increase outbound tourism to Egypt. Chinese tourists currently account for about 20 percent of Egypt's incoming visitors and Egypt is looking to increase that number by increasing flights between the two countries and granting visa entry to Chinese tourist groups upon their arrival in Egypt.

Zimbabwe: The country aims for 50,000 Chinese arrivals by 2015. It sent a tourism delegation to participate in the largest professional travel mart in Asia, the China International Travel Mart (CITM), and set up a new visa application system that allowed tourists to apply online rather than travel to the embassy in Beijing.

Morocco: Chinese tourists will be able to travel individually to Morocco by direct flight this year, according to Larson Haddad, Tourism Minister of Morocco. He also announced at the first China-Morocco Economic Forum last month that plans to issue tourist visas to Chinese individual visitors and launch direct flights between China and Morocco are underway. Chinese tourists can now visit Morocco by joining a tour group, and only paper visa applications are accepted. Minister Haddad said that Morocco and China have started negotiations on the visa issue, and individual tourist visas are expected to be issued to Chinese visitors in 2015. In addition, more visa agencies will be established and electronic visa applications will be accepted to expedite visa approval. According to Larson, Royal Air Maroc is planning to launch direct flights between China and Morocco, shortening flight times to five or six hours. Airlines and tour operators also see Morocco as "a secure destination".

Mauritius and the Lux Group: This Indian Ocean island has increasingly turned to Chinese tourists to make up for a decline in arrivals from Europe since the global financial crisis. The luxury Lux hotel group, which has properties in the Maldives and Reunion as well as Mauritius, reported in November last year that full year occupancy rates rose 4 percent to 72 percent, lifting the group's earnings in the financial year to the end of June in 2014.

Africa is a wild, beautiful, exotic continent with beautiful beaches, staggering wildlife migrations, breath-taking natural wonders and millennia old cultures and that is only the tip of the iceberg. There is no reason that we should be on every Chinese traveler's bucket list. And with a little education, innovation and cooperation there is no reason for tourism not to be Africa's largest economic contributor. Chinese travelers are tired of Paris, New York and Sidney and the sooner we understand this, the sooner we can give them the welcome they deserve.

Additional information sources:






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