By Miroslav Atanasov, Ph.D.,Renmin University of China
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.
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.
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. This 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.
( The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Panview or CCTV.com. )
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