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Saturday, 20 July 2013 15:44

Seeking New Destinations

Camps-Bay-beachAs more Chinese consider spending their holidays in Africa, the continent's tourism sector needs optimum positioning

By Hannah Edinger & Lu Jinghao*

CHINA, July 20, 2013 (ChinAfrica) - Over the past 15 years, China's commercial engagement with Africa has seen rapid growth in the trade, aid and investment sectors. Overshadowed by the constant focus on these sectors, tourism trade between the Asian nation and Africa has been quietly expanding.

Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) is becoming an increasingly popular destination for Chinese tourists. In 2008, 2.6 percent of Chinese outbound tourists chose to travel to Africa, compared to the 8.8 percent that traveled to the Americas and the 67.8 percent that visited other Asian countries.


South Africa is the most popular tourist destination for Chinese visitors to SSA. According to South Africa's tourism department, the country attracted 132,334 Chinese visitors in 2012, a 55.9-percent year-on-year increase and three times the number of Chinese tourists that visited the country in 2009. China has become the fourth largest country of origin for tourists visiting South Africa.

A growing number of Chinese tourists are also visiting Kenya. As a preferred safari destination, Kenya has seen the number of Chinese tourists more than triple between 2005 and 2011, reaching 41,000.


Growing numbers

Increasing interest in Africa as a tourist destination may be attributed to several factors. China is now home to the world's second largest economy and Chinese citizens are becoming more interested in overseas tourist destinations. The country is currently the fastest-growing source of outbound tourists and travelers in the world.


According to the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), the number of Chinese outbound tourists grew from 10 million in 2000 to 83 million in 2012. An estimated 100 million Chinese will travel abroad by 2015. In 2012, Chinese tourists spent $102 billion on outbound travel, making them the largest contributors of tourism income in the world, according to the UNWTO.


Mounting Sino-African commercial ties, particularly since the launch of the tri-annual Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC), have also promoted closer tourism cooperation between the two sides. By 2012 the Chinese Government had offered 26 African countries Approved Destination Status, permitting outbound Chinese leisure travel and facilitating the organization by travel agents of tour groups to these countries. The increase of Chinese business activities in Africa has also led to the establishment of new flight routes, including the non-stop flight between Beijing and Johannesburg launched in January 2012 by South African Airways, which also allow easier access between China and the continent. Every morning, Johannesburg's OR Tambo International Airport welcomes hundreds of Chinese business and leisure travelers to South Africa.


New destinations

As more middle-class Chinese travelers have already visited Europe, Southeast Asia and North America, many are looking for more unconventional and exotic tourist destinations. The African continent differentiates itself from more traditional destinations in Asia and Europe with its combination of natural scenery, wildlife, local culture and souvenirs.


Chinese travel agencies, which previously focused on advertising European or North American tours, are placing greater emphasis on African countries such as Egypt, Kenya and South Africa. Another contributing factor to the surge of Chinese tourists bound for Africa is the gradual but sustained appreciation of China's currency in recent years and the depreciation of a number of African currencies during the same period, which makes traveling to Africa more affordable for Chinese tourists.


The increased interest in tourism in Africa bodes well for the continent's economies. Internationally, tourism has been recognized as a key growth sector with the potential for job creation, business opportunities, generation of export revenues and spillover to other industries, including infrastructure, property and retail development.


Tourism is one of the largest and fastest growing sectors globally. It is also Africa's largest service export and among the most prominent sources of foreign capital in many of the continent's countries. As such, inbound tourism is recognized as a critical driver of economic growth in Africa.


Tailored tours

With the increasing number of visitors to the continent, Africa will need to work to tailor its tourist services to match the preferences and requirements of Chinese tourists. Aside from business travelers, a large number of Chinese travelers choose to join tour groups organized by travel agencies based in China. This is because many Chinese still see Africa as an unknown and risky tourist destination, and see guided tours as the safest and most efficient way to visit a particular destination. As a result, competition between travel agencies in China is often fierce.


But at the same time, young, middle-class and experienced Chinese travelers are beginning to favor self-guided African tours, which require more planning and proficiency in a foreign language, such as English. Tourists with a streak of independence and desire for adventure look for travel information, share travel tips and seek travel companions on major social media portals such as Weibo and Renren.


Africans also need to understand the consumption patterns of Chinese tourists, who are well known for purchasing luxury goods and high-end brands. Although many African nations have not developed their own indigenous luxury brands, high quality African artifacts are now favored by Chinese tourists as they make unique and memorable gifts for friends back home.


Cultural awareness

As most Chinese visitors are seeking a different experience in coming to Africa (some young Chinese couples spend their honeymoons in South Africa or Kenya for example), economies will need to develop strategies that differentiate their natural and cultural tourism resources from other regions or economies. A regional African approach could also be considered in this regard. Furthermore, value-added products and high-quality souvenirs should be added to the traditional offering of sight-seeing.


While enjoying the unique cultural and natural experiences that Africa has to offer, Chinese tourists prefer to follow their own cultural practices while vacationing. A variety of facilities geared toward serving Chinese tourists, including authentic Chinese restaurants, bilingual tour guides and ATM machines that accept China UnionPay cards, will increase tourism income.


Making use of Chinese social media platforms is essential for marketing aimed at prospective Chinese tourists. While advertisements in line with country branding strategies on major Chinese TV channels remain relevant, maintaining a popular Weibo account can also reach a sizeable audience. Working with major Chinese backpacking websites, such as QiongYou and MaFengWo, and coordinating with Chinese travel agents would also pay dividends.


Savvy marketing

Looking ahead, it is imperative for African nations to market themselves better on the international stage. Countries that can communicate to potential tourists that they are a safe and attractive destination will be able to reap rewards. Making it easier for Chinese citizens to obtain tourist visas will also encourage more Chinese vacationers, who currently have to hire agencies or travel to Beijing to apply for visas to African countries, to travel to Africa. Easing the visa application process or opening additional visa offices in other major cities in China will attract additional business and leisure travelers to the continent.


Already, there are moves afoot to negotiate further direct air-links between China and African nations. A number of Chinese airlines are also actively seeking to invest in hotels in the countries to which they fly. With the number of Chinese outbound tourists expected to increase, it is important that African nations work to attract this new source of tourists, and effectively harness the tourism industry to provide social, economic and political benefits.

***Hannah Edinger is Head of Research & Strategy at Frontier Advisory, a South Africa research, strategy and investment advisory firm. Lu Jinghao is a China-Africa Analyst at Frontier Advisor. (Source: ChinAfrica)



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