OPINION PHINDILE MAKWAKWA – The number of Chinese tourists travelling globally is on the rise making this market the “new gold” the world over.
With China being the number one outbound tourism market in the world in terms of trips abroad and expenditure, every country wants to attract Chinese visitors-and South Africa and KZN areno exception.
Chinese visitors have become one of South Africa’s priority tourism markets, with 97 271 visiting the country last year, staying an average of 15 days and spending R15 800 each, which equated to R1.4billion.
KwaZulu-Natal – which has a thriving Chinese business community – is also seeing a steady increase of Chinese tourists with 6 225 having visited the province in 2017, staying an average of 12,9 nights and spending R12 600 each, thus boosting the region’s coffers by more than R78-million.
Peak visiting times are around Chinese New Year in January/February; between May and June when the Chinese take their annual holidays; and during the annual national Golden Week holidays in October.
President Cyril Ramaphosa recently visited China on a State visit hosted by President Xi in Beijing, where one of his tasks was to promote South Africa as a desirable tourism destination for the Chinese.
To make Chinese visitors travel experience even more seamless, South Africa has established visa facilitation centres in 11 Chinese cities: Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Chengdu, Xian, Shenyang, Wuhan, Jinan, Hangzhou and, most recently, Kunming and Chongqing.
Biometrics can be taken on arrival in South Africa. Visa applications are also allowed via courier and Chinese tourists can now get five-year multiple entry visas. Chinese business travellers are issued with a 10-year multiple entry visa within five days of their application.
Against this background of a China focus, more and more local companies are increasing the number of Mandarin-speaking guides, getting their promotional material and websites translated into Mandarin, are becoming more computer savvy, and some are even considering a Chinese name for their email signatures.
Research commissioned by the World Tourism Cities Federation and research company Ipsos (Market Research Report on Chinese Outbound Tourist Consumption 2017-2018) found that in the five years from 2010 to 2014, the number of China’s outbound tourists increased rapidly at an average annual rate of 18%.
In 2014, the number of China’s outbound tourists exceeded 100 million for the first time although the growth rate started to level off after 2015. Last year, China’s outbound tourists reached 130.51 million, a year-on-year growth of seven percent .
At the recent World Trade Market (WTM) exhibition in London, tourism authorities -including our own Tourism KZN-conducted back-to-back meetings with their Chinese counterparts in an aggressive drive to woo the Asian visitors.
At the Asia Inspiration Zone, speakers explained that for Chinese visitors to feel more welcome and for them to be attracted to visit, destinations, in particular travel agents and tour operators needed to be “China Ready” for the Chinese visitor, travel is perceived as an experience and products need to be flexible and personalized with cuisine reflecting Chinese preferences amongst a number of other modifications.
Delegates at WTM heard that Chinese tourists are still travelling in groups, although an increasing number are choosing to travel independently, looking to research their own trips, hire cars and stay longer in one place, rather than tick big city icons off their list.With less visa restrictions in place for Chinese tourists (27 destinations offer visa-free entry), it was now a lot easier for the Chinese holiday and business visitors to travel. There was also improved connectivity with flights to second-tier cities in China, as well as far better information through the use of social media, while mobile payment options made travel even easier.
Our tourism promotion in the coming years continues to leverage on KZN’s connectivity to the world with our recent direct flight announcement from British Airways, in addition to other direct flights from other parts of the world and a number of discussions with other Asian airlines are in the pipeline.
Team KZN is excited to be welcoming this lucrative market to our shores.
Phindile Makwakwa is the Acting Chief Executive Officer for Tourism KwaZulu-Natal.