Target ‘Niche’ Chinese travellers, not numbers, tourism experts tell Africa

Saturday, July 29, 2023


African countries are investing heavily in trying to attract tourists from the world’s biggest outbound travel market, China, as they battle to recover from losses suffered during the travel bans of the COVID-19 pandemic.

COVID wiped out large parts of tourism industries, especially in poorer parts of the world like Africa, said Mike Fabricius, a specialist in tourism management, consulting and marketing for his Johannesburg-based company.

Some African countries rely heavily on the foreign exchange that tourists bring in and the money they spend in domestic markets. To lose that for a few years was a heavy, heavy blow.

In 2019, before the pandemic, the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) estimated that tourism in Africa had a yearly growth rate of 5% and contributed an average of 8.5% to GDP.

The WTTC said direct investments into the tourism sector were about $29 billion, and that tourism created jobs for 24.3 million direct employees, accounting for 6.4% of Africa’s total working population.

It estimated that COVID-19 travel bans cost Africa at least a third to half of these numbers.

Nomasonto Ndlovu, chief operations officer of South African Tourism, said 500,000 jobs were lost in the local tourism sector because of the pandemic.

She said that they are confident of a good recovery by end 2024, especially because we’re targeting tourists from a huge market like China, she said.

In 2019, 155 million Chinese tourists visited foreign destinations. It’s true that relatively few chose to come to Africa, said Ndlovu.

Only 95,000 visited South Africa in 2019. So, we can’t blame COVID entirely for low numbers of Chinese visitors.

Discounts on airfare

South Africa, Egypt, Kenya and Tanzania are some of the countries now offering more direct flights to China.

Kenya is partnering with Chinese social media platforms and marketing attractions such as the Maasai Mara game reserve on WeChat and TikTok.

Tanzania’s national airline is offering discounts of up to 50% on flights to and from China.

Still, the country’s tourism board projects that only 45,000 Chinese will have visited Tanzania by the end of the year.

But Fabricius said African authorities were placing too much emphasis on numbers.

He has worked on tourism projects in China and elsewhere for the United Nations and the World Bank and formulated strategies for global tourism authorities.

The Chinese market has evolved a lot. It used to be thrown in one pot, like the Chinese only travel in big groups and take lots of pictures; they only go to the big places, he said.

But with a new generation of travellers, there’s no longer such a thing as ‘the Chinese tourist’; it’s become a lot more diversified and segmented.

Fabricius said the Chinese mass market remained focused on “iconic” international travel destinations, such as New York, Paris and London.

Africa’s not going to attract that bulk market; it remains a niche destination for the Chinese, he said.

So, what you want to do is attract Chinese tourists with focused interests in things like culture, wildlife and exploring.

Rosemary Anderson, chairperson of the FEDHASA organization, which represents hospitality industries across Southern Africa, said continental authorities should indeed be promoting “unique experiences.”

South Africa, for example, offers every experience imaginable — wildlife safaris, stunning landscapes, vibrant culture and adventure activities. They need to emphasize experiences that are distinctive.

‘Visa access is essential’

According to Anderson and Fabricius, government inefficiency and complicated visa requirements remain challenges to African efforts to lure Chinese tourists.

Visa access is essential, Fabricius said.

Fabricius said efforts to attract Chinese visitors should actually begin at home, not in Beijing.

China is Africa’s biggest trade partner, and many thousands of Chinese business travellers are visiting the continent every day, he said.

That creates another opportunity- these people who come on a business trip and then after that they tell others about their experiences and that creates a second wave of the leisure travel market, he said.

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