China has recently become the largest outbound tourist market in the world. The number of Chinese tourists traveling worldwide has grown to over a 100 million, likely to double by 2020. In 2013 Chinese tourists spent a total $102 billion dollars on their trips.
When Chinese-looking persons enter the Nairobi City Market or Massai Market Fair in Kenya’s capital, they are often greeted with “Ni Hao” as they pass shops and stands. Some local shop-keepers have a broader Mandarin vocabulary, which helps them sell African woodcarvings, fabric, or other local souvenirs to Chinese tourists.
Those numbers are expected to keep rising. Many Chinese are weary of traditional destinations, such as Europe and North America. So they are turning to Africa as a great place to spend an exotic vacation.
The numerous bilateral exchanges between China and Africa have encouraged Chinese tourism in African countries. In 2008 only 2.8 % of Chinese tourists chose Africa as a destination.
In 2014, according to the China Outbound Travel Development Report, that number has reached 9.4 %. The annual growth rate of Chinese tourist traffic to Africa has been 50% since 2010 - higher than to any other part of the world.
The most popular destination for Chinese tourists is South Africa; with direct flights currently available between Beijing and Johannesburg. Derek Hanekom, Tourism Minister of South Africa, says China is one of the important sources of tourists for his country and pledges to help create more conveniences to welcome Chinese travelers.
Other destinations popular among the Chinese are Egypt, Kenya, Cameroon, Senegal, Algeria, Angola, Mauritius, Tunisia, and Zimbabwe.
Since the Chinese government has granted Kenya an Approved Destination Status for outbound tourism in 2004, the number of Chinese tourists going there has risen. In 2013, 37,000 Chinese visited Kenya.
The same year, on a visit to China, Kenya’s president Uhuru Kenyatta said his country’s tourism industry had set the goal of attracting a record number of 1.3 million Chinese.
Tourism in Kenya is popular in the summer when migration of animals can be observed in its national parks. When China Central Television (CCTV) aired live broadcasts of the migration of rhinos, zebras, and wilder beasts in 2012-13, that became a well-known wonder in China.
That has attracted thousands of Chinese during the summer season to Kenya.
Zhang Hongtao, director of AA lodges in Kenya, said, Now Chinese tourists book hotels six months in advance to get a room nearby even when the accommodation price doubles or triples.
The majority of Chinese tourists prefer big organized group trips within budget. About 10% of them, however, are high-end travelers who spend 4-5 times more money than the average tourist.
People in this category travel in smaller groups and avoid rough roads by taking charter flights to national parks.
They use secluded private lodges instead of hotels. While in Europe they may buy luxury brands, in South Africa their interests are diamonds.
Some of Kenya’s tour-operators, including Safari Collection, Governor’s Camp, and Loisaba Wilderness, cooperate with Chinese counterparts to promote luxury services.
There are some important tips from experts, which would be helpful to Africans in their attempts to attract more Chinese tourists and make their experience more enjoyable:
1.African governments should make tourism a greater priority on their national agenda by taking the following steps:
a). Improve safety measures around tourist sites.
b). Enhance tourism-related infrastructure.
c). Ease visa procedures for Chinese travelers.
d). Spend more on tourism promotion, which brings much easier and quicker economic returns than industrial investments.
Currently, only few African countries, such as South Africa, Zimbabwe, Namibia, and Morocco have set up tourist promoting agencies in China.
If the Chinese overcome the stereotypical international fear of travel in Africa and realize what a great experience it could be, the number of their visits there would skyrocket.
2.African service and hospitality sector needs to:
a). Hire more Chinese-speakers. Many Chinese business travelers might know English, but their families members who come on a safari often might not.
b). Offer Chinese food at National Park lodges, porridge and noodles for breakfast, complimentary green tea, and hot water – all good gestures of Chinese hospitality.
Many National Park lodges in Kenya, for example do not offer any Chinese food. Some Chinese tourists, especially seniors, may enjoy their safaris, but can’t wait to return to Nairobi for Chinese food.
Even though Chinese travelers, like others, might sometimes be discouraged by problems including the Ebola epidemic in 2013-14 or an occasional terrorist assault, Chinese tourism in Africa will flourish.
Yang Jinsong, a professor of international tourism at the China Tourism Academy, considers this phenomenon astounding. “The number of Chinese tourists to Africa will rise, and rise greatly” said Yang.
South Africa is targeting Chinese and Indian tourists after relaxing its visa rules.
South Africa’s tourism industry is recovering from an ill-fated experiment with stricter visa regulations. The country welcomed nearly 3 million tourists in January this year, 15% up on a year ago, according to the tourism ministry this week.
In the last quarter of 2015, the number of tourists from China fell by nearly half, and visitors from India dropped by 15%, according to the South African Tourism Services Association.
Tourism has consistently made up 3% of South Africa’s economy in the last decade, and is a key source of jobs and foreign income, according to Statistics South Africa, a government agency.
Tourism minister Derek Hanekom attributed the revitalized growth to South Africa’s weakened currency, the elimination of the Ebola outbreak all the way over in West Africa, and scrapping controversial visa restrictions.
The laws were relaxed earlier this year but it could take up to five years for the industry to fully recover, Tourism Business Council of South Africa CEO Mmatati Ramawela said.
In October 2014, South Africa’s Home Affairs department introduced new laws that required all visitors to have their bio-metric data captured in person at an embassy or official visa center.
Children were required to travel with a certified unabridged birth certificate and the written consent of a parent where the child was traveling with one parent or a relative.
The new regulations were aimed at a broad number of issues to “balance South Africa’s openness to legitimate travelers,” home affairs minister Malusi Gigaba said at the time. His department’s main concerns were South Africa’s porous borders and national security.
But it was the legitimate travelers who may have been worst affected, especially from China and India. The tourism minister Hanekom has since traveled to China and India to reassure visitors that South Africa is once again a hassle-free dream destination.
The improved numbers still reflect a bias toward countries that have historically favored passports. Eight of the top ten visiting nationalities come from countries that don’t need visas, meaning remaining restrictions are still deterring a huge tourism market in the developing world.
South Africa is also missing out on tourists from its own continent. More than 98% of African tourists who visited South Africa, all came from countries within the Southern African Development Community.
Citizens of the 15-member trade and diplomatic community do not need visas to travel within the community, a model South Africa, and the rest of the continent, may want to consider expanding.
South Africa saw a huge increase of Chinese tourists in January and the country is expecting a Chinese tourist boom with a series of measures to facilitate their coming, according to South Africa's digital publishing house.
The report said data from Statistics South Africa show that 1,012,641 tourist arrivals to South Africa were recorded in January this year, up 15 percent from that of the same month last year.
It is the first time South Africa had more than one million tourist arrivals in a month, it said.
The report said 79 percent arrived from African countries and the others were from overseas. And of the overseas visitors, arrivals from China grew by 93 percent.
South Africa Tourism Minister Derek Hanekom indicated that despite China's economic slow-down, there is an expected boom of Chinese tourists in South Africa, the report said.
It said a series of measures have been taken to attract expected Chinese tourists.
With an Accredited Travel Company program in China, which was announced by the Department of Home Affairs of South Africa in January, Chinese travelers to South Africa don't need to make in-person applications at visa processing centers any more.
There's also no requirement for Chinese nationals to have transit visas to travel to South Africa's neighboring countries.
South Africa also opened new visa facilitation centers in Chengdu, capital of Sichuan province, and Guangzhou, capital of Guangdong province. The country already had visa centers in Beijing and Shanghai. Five more centers are expected to be open at the end of April in another five provincial capitals.
We are confident that the number of tourists visiting South Africa from China will grow significantly this year. Our discussions with the Chinese travel trade have included measures on how to make the best of the expected boom, Hanekom said.
In 2015, China was the world's top outbound tourist market, with more than 100 million Chinese traveling abroad.
With the opening of direct flights, relaxation of visa regimes and other incentives, many African countries are expecting the arrival of more Chinese tourists.
In 2015, China Southern Airlines launched flights to Kenya's capital, Nairobi, from Guangzhou and Air China also launched direct flights from Beijing to Ethiopia's capital, Addis Ababa.