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Chinese tourists smitten by the charms of Africa

Updated: 2013-07-26 09:51
By An Chunying ( China Daily)

Economic ties are helping boost foreign visitors to a previously ignored continent

As China beefs up investment in Africa, economic cooperation between the two parties is growing at breakneck pace, and the same is true of tourism.

Tired of the usual tour routes in familiar regions and wanting journeys to the unknown, more Chinese tourists are going beyond Southeast Asia to spend their holidays in Africa.

Thanks to Africa's superb natural scenery and unique cultures, South Africa, Kenya, Egypt and several islands in the Indian Ocean are hot destinations for Chinese travelers.

The number of Chinese travelers to South Africa rose 10.2 percent to more than 130,000 last year, making China the fourth-largest source of tourists there.

From 2011 to 2012, the number of Chinese tourists in Africa grew by 56 percent despite Europeans remaining the biggest tourism group.

There are several reasons why the Chinese are rushing to Africa for vacations.

First, Africa is a rich continent full of natural resources, not only for safaris and for those who want to visit places that have rarely been seen by outsiders, but also for people who want to discover the unique features of various countries and regions on the continent.

Experienced Chinese tourists are seeking more experience-based activities - anything from scuba diving in Hawaii to adventures in Africa.

Second, the close relations between China and Africa and the increasing business, cultural and political exchanges help to attract Chinese visitors.

Since 2004, when China granted Kenya Approved Destination Status for outbound Chinese tourist groups, the number of Chinese visitors there has continued to increase.

In addition, as the tourism sector in Africa plays a more important role in driving local economic development by creating jobs and stimulating infrastructure and construction, some African countries are putting more effort into attracting tourists from China.

South Africa, a newly emerging travel destination for Chinese, recently added new visa application centers in Beijing and Shanghai, and last year South African Airways added direct flights from Beijing to Johannesburg.

The country has also sent a series of tourism exhibitions to Beijing, Shanghai and Chengdu, as part of an aggressive promotion aimed at the Chinese market.

Countries such as Egypt and Kenya have also stepped up their efforts to increase their exposure on Chinese TV.

Despite its impressive natural resources, Africa only accounts for 5 percent of international tourist arrivals worldwide. Chinese tourists to Africa represent less than 3 percent of the 47 million international tourists.

One reason for this is the lack of research by Chinese businesses on how to tap into the growing African tourism market.

For many Chinese travel operators, Africa's emerging travel market has lagged well behind other markets due to poor services, inadequate facilities and too few products that meet international standards.

Many Chinese still see Africa as a risky and unsafe tourist destination.

African countries need to greatly improve information services and infrastructure.

But South Africa has done a very good job in recent years in upgrading facilities, including airports, railways and major roads, thanks to the hosting of the football World Cup in 2010. It also developed rapid-transit systems to deliver travelers to stadiums around the country. Thousands of hotel rooms were built or renovated for the event.

Further, Africa should launch some tailor-made services and products to meet the needs of travelers from China, such as a Chinese-language website, Chinese-speaking tour guides and cooperation with Chinese banks so that affluent Chinese can enjoy shopping.

With ever-expanding business relations and continued attention to marketing, there is no doubt Africa will develop into a top travel destination for the Chinese in much the same way Europe and North America did.

The author is a researcher at the Institute of West-Asian and African Studies, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences

(China Daily Africa Weekly 07/26/2013 page9)

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