• Latest News

    Friday, February 16, 2024

    African Countries Gear Up for Lucrative Chinese Travel Market

    Kenya, Tanzania, and South Africa are leading a charge by African countries to reinvigorate their post-pandemic tourism markets by targeting the Chinese travel market.’

    The View From Tanzania

    Former Tanzania Minister of Natural Resources and Tourism, Mohamed Mchengerwa, said in May 2023 the country needed “visitors from all over China to boost its tourism sector.” The country’s tourism board estimates that more than 45,000 Chinese tourists will visit by the end of the year. It would likely be less than 3% of the 1.5 million visitors Tanzania had last year who contributed to a tourism industry that accounts for nearly a fifth of the country’s GDP and as much as a quarter of foreign exchange earnings.

    The Director of a travel agency in Tanzania, Lucy Minde is convinced that her country has a lot to offer Chinese tourists, just as they have a lot to offer Tanzania. "We have wild animals, varied landscapes, a rich culture. And China is a very populous country, with a large middle class that wants to travel and enjoys good purchasing power," said the young owner of Laitolya Tours and Safaris.

    Before the Covid-19 outbreak, her agency had begun designing customized stays for this new clientele. That all came to a halt with the pandemic. But when Chinese borders reopened in early 2023, she said there was no time to waste. "It's a complicated market but the potential is enormous. We need to be prepared because things can happen very quickly," said Minde. The tour operator took part in hosting a delegation of Chinese tourism professionals in 2023 and hopes to visit China in the coming months, as part of a tour organized by the authorities to sell "destination Tanzania."

    The East African country wants to massively increase the number of travelers from the Asian giant, which it describes as a new "strategic market." And it is not alone. Leading tourist destinations in Africa, including South Africa, Kenya and Tunisia, are intensively marketing to Chinese tourists through advertising campaigns, roadshows and eased travel rules to attract more visitors from China.

    This clientele is sure to whet appetites: In 2019, just before the pandemic, 155 million Chinese people vacationed abroad, spending on average almost twice as much during their stays as American tourists. Only a fraction – less than a million – chose to visit Africa, yet their numbers were growing every year.

    Developing specific strategies

    At a time when the dark chapter of the health crisis is closing, professionals are hoping to see the movement set in motion once again. According to the latest data from the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), Africa recorded some 66.4 million international visitors in 2023, virtually on par with 2019. This stability is significant for a continent where tourism typically represents about 10% of its export earnings. This recovery, however, is primarily driven by European travelers. China is only marginally involved.

    In South Africa, the government welcomed the arrival of 37,000 Chinese tourists between March and December, a increase of over 200% over one year. American travelers, on the other hand, were almost 10 times more numerous (354,000) and Europeans 30 times more, with 1.2 million visits recorded!

    "Chinese travelers prefer proximity – Asia – to long distances. And those who go farther afield concentrate on a few iconic destinations in Europe or the US, which are easily accessible, have good infrastructure and a reputation for safety," said Mike Fabricius, a consultant based in South Africa. "They rarely venture into our countries, and Chinese tourism is likely to remain a niche market."

    Nevertheless, the expert believes it is time to develop specific strategies, based in particular on the close economic ties that bind China to the continent: "This country is our number one trading partner, and we need to capitalize more effectively on all the Chinese who come to us on business trips throughout the year."

    'Not offensive enough'

    The South African authorities promise to ease visa procedures and are working to increase air connections between the two countries. In Tunisia, too, the Ministry of Tourism announced visa-free travel for Chinese tourists in October 2023 and said it would open a direct Tunisair flight to China in 2024. Since the pandemic, establishing air connections has continued to be a challenging issue. In Morocco, for example, a traditionally popular destination for Chinese tourists, the Royal Air Maroc route between Casablanca and Beijing that closed during the health crisis is still out of service.

    Accessibility is not the only issue. Specialists point out that the Chinese fear instability and crime on the continent. Those who do not do business there know little about Africa. "Until now, we haven't been aggressive enough in promoting our country in China," said Gcobani Mancotywa, Asia manager at the South African Tourism Board. "Now, we're designing targeted marketing campaigns by working with major Chinese platforms like Ctrip [China's leading tour operator app] and Baidu."

    In Kenya, too, industry leaders are stepping up their seduction campaigns on Chinese social media such as WeChat, Weibo and Douyin (the Chinese version of TikTok). Mohammed Hersi, former president of the Kenyan Tourism Federation and COO of tour operator Pollman's, added: "For too long, we've done a poor job of communicating our products. As a result, the few Chinese tourists who come to Kenya are only interested in the wildebeest migration in the Masai Mara Park. But it's a very brief event that only happens once a year when we have so many other things to offer!"

    The weakness of the Chinese economy

    One thing is certain: The big tourist countries have so far calibrated most of their offerings to the needs and desires of Europeans and North Americans. "But whether it's language, type of cuisine, tours or entertainment, Chinese expectations are not the same," said Minde. "We have to learn to adapt."

    African countries face a challenge beyond their control: The struggling Chinese economy, marked by high youth unemployment and slow income growth. This complex issue impacts tourism globally. Recently, Chinese tourists have begun returning to France, a pre-Covid favorite destination, but only in small numbers.

    "Targeting the Chinese is all well and good but it shouldn't be our sole objective," said Hersi. "There are other very promising new markets, such as India and Eastern Europe, and we mustn't neglect our traditional customers in Europe and the US, who are still the most important.

    • Blogger Comments
    • Facebook Comments


    Item Reviewed: African Countries Gear Up for Lucrative Chinese Travel Market Rating: 5 Reviewed By: BrandIconImage
    Scroll to Top