A piece of Chinese pie

Hannah Ryder and Rosie Wigmore

Before COVID-19 hit, a competition was about to heat up.

March 2020 – around the time that African countries started closing their borders – would have been the time when African tourism agencies would have prepared to market their top destinations to Chinese tourists, targeting the October National Day. or the “golden week”. Golden Week is one of the two major Chinese national annual holidays alongside the Chinese Lunar New Year, which takes place in January or February.

Chinese tourists are definitely worth targeting, given the country’s growing income. Between 2010 and 2019, the number of Chinese traveling abroad each year tripled to 155 million, representing more than 10% of all outbound tourism in the world. It’s important to note that around 8.5% of these trips were made during Golden Week and Lunar New Year, making this a predictable opportunity to attract tourists overseas from a country where Personal annual leave is limited apart from the other most important public holidays in the world in July / August and December.

In addition, Chinese tourists spend more than others – the WTO estimates at nearly US $ 1,000 per trip, double that of US tourists.

It is obvious to try to attract Chinese tourists to African destinations. As a result, entry requirements for Chinese nationals have gradually eased across the continent. In Morocco, Chinese arrivals are said to have increased by 378% in the six months following the exemption of Chinese nationals from entry visas in 2016.

Chinese nationals can now arrive in 27 African countries without first applying for a visa. Some countries, such as Angola and South Africa, have also made it easier for Chinese business travelers to obtain long-term, multiple-entry visas.

However, since COVID-19, tourists have become scarce.

While Africa as a whole generally attracts few global tourists – only four percent of the global total – several countries are dependent on tourism, such as Morocco, Mauritius, Seychelles, Tunisia and Tanzania. In total, 24 million people on the continent depend on tourism for their work.

Low tourism has therefore had a huge effect on Africa, despite the fact that among the most dependent are the countries that have best managed COVID-19 globally. For example, six of the ten African countries most dependent on tourism have recorded less than 10,000 cases since the start of the pandemic. Mauritius has only recorded 15 deaths from COVID-19 to date, Seychelles only 25.

However, despite this success, their savings are suffering. In Seychelles, tourism income declined by 61% in 2020 and as a result the country’s 2021 budget had to be cut by 10%.

The problem with Chinese tourists is that even before COVID-19, the African continent was barely on the map. As we have already noted, Africa attracts a very small proportion of the world’s tourists, and of that, China is an even smaller proportion.

In 2018, although estimates vary, data suggests that Africa attracted less than one in 100 Chinese tourists. This puts Chinese tourists at the same level as the number of British tourists entering Africa each year – although less of Britons travel abroad. Or, to put it another way, there are at least three American tourists and two French tourists for every Chinese tourist visiting Africa.

So what now? African countries are clearly desperate to restart tourism. For example, Mauritius became the first African country to launch a so-called “digital nomad” long-term tourist visa – including a vaccine in the arrival package.

Seychelles, which already does not need visas for Chinese or any other travelers, is vaccinating their population as quickly as possible in a bid to create herd immunity – more than 50% of its people were fully vaccinated by the end of April.

But should African countries resume the hard work of trying to specifically attract Chinese tourists, and what would that entail?

On the one hand, Africa is more and more popular in Chinese minds. In 2018, Chinese travel agency Trip.com reported a 70% increase in purchases of Africa-related tourism products in the first seven months of 2018. Also in 2018, Hurun Report The Chinese Luxury Traveler named Africa as the region with the greatest increase in interest from wealthy Chinese tourists.

Chinese tourists are interested in pyramids in Egypt (the most popular African destination for Chinese nationals in 2018), safaris in South Africa (the third most popular) and beaches in Mauritius and Kenya.

Perks such as five Ethiopian Airways terminals in China, as well as a center in Addis Ababa to facilitate visas for other African countries, have also made Ethiopia popular, positioning it as the gateway to the rest of Africa for Chinese business travelers and regular tourists. Going forward, China’s strong and consistent handling of COVID-19 and continued economic growth could make it a significant and reliable source of travelers.

On the other hand, just as China’s success in tackling COVID-19 at the national level has led to low vaccine uptake, this success, combined with expensive return quarantine processes, also means a great deal. reluctance with regard to international tourism. For example, at the time of writing, re-entry to Beijing for Chinese nationals requires 14 days of isolation in a government-designated hotel, plus seven days of home quarantine.

These opportunities combined with new challenges have two implications.

First, tourism-dependent economies in Africa must make tourism a priority in government-to-government negotiations. No quarantine restrictions will be relaxed or non-Chinese vaccines accepted without approval from the Chinese government.

If Egypt, Rwanda, Kenya or others want Chinese luxury or business tourists back, the Chinese government is the first stop, armed with clear information on their internal COVID management processes and results. -19, and clear proposals on what is a kind of mutual. quarantine recognition, vaccination processes and standard operational protocols are similar to practice – including for specific “protected areas” or “approved leisure or business destinations” in African countries as necessary.

Second, tourism dependent economies in Africa need to start the marketing they were about to launch in 2020, targeting Golden Week or Chinese New Year 2022. In doing so, they need to focus on the unique experiences that tourists will live off the competition from Chinese domestic tourist sites, which themselves offer a lot, given the size and variety of China.

For example, Chinese tourists are unlikely to find digital nomadic visas attractive, but they may find multi-destination and multi-year visas more attractive, especially for business.

Good management of COVID-19 will also be a plus and should be marketed as such, with an emphasis on the relative safety of a beach or other leisure or business tourism destination. And of course, the luxury or unique accommodation should be emphasized, as well as a lot of food and relaxation.

Increasing COVID-19 tourism is undoubtedly a huge challenge. But for some African countries, it is necessary for both income and employment. Taking this opportunity to focus on Chinese tourists may well be a golden choice. – African affairs

Hannah Ryder is CEO of Development Reimagined. Rosie Wigmore is Research Analyst at Development Reimagined

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