On the one hand, Africa is becoming more popular in Chinese minds. In 2018, Chinese travel agency Trip.com reported a 70% increase in the purchase of Africa-related tourism products in the first seven months of 2018. Also in 2018, Hurun Report’s The Chinese Luxury Traveller named Africa as the region with the biggest increase in interest from high-net-worth 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.
Advantages such as five Ethiopian Airways termini in China, as well as a centre in Addis Ababa to facilitate visas to other African nations, have also made Ethiopia popular, positioning it as the gateway to the rest of Africa for Chinese business travellers and regular tourists. In the future, China’s strong and consistent handling of Covid-19 and continued economic growth could make it an important and reliable source of travellers.
On the other hand, just as China’s success in addressing Covid-19 domestically has led to low take-up of vaccines, that success, combined with onerous processes for quarantine on return also means a great deal of reticence when it comes to international tourism. For instance, at the time of writing, re-entry to Beijing for Chinese nationals requires 14 days in isolation in a government-appointed hotel, plus seven days home quarantine.
Making the right choices
These opportunities combined with new challenges have two implications.
First, Africa’s tourist-dependent economies need to make the sector a priority in government-to-government negotiations. No quarantine restrictions will be relaxed or non-Chinese vaccines accepted without Chinese government approval.
If Egypt, Rwanda, Kenya or any others want Chinese luxury or business tourists back, the Chinese government is the first stop, armed with clear information on their internal Covid-19 management processes and results, and clear proposals as to what some sort of mutual recognition of quarantine, vaccination processes and standard operating protocols look like in practice – including for specific “protected areas” or “approved leisure or business destinations” within the African countries if necessary.
Second, Africa’s tourist dependent economies need to begin the marketing they were about to launch in 2020 now – targeting Golden Week or the 2022 Chinese new year. In doing so, they need to focus on the unique experiences tourists will get in comparison to the competition from Chinese domestic tourist sites, which themselves offer a great deal, given China’s size and variety.
For instance, Chinese tourists are unlikely to find digital nomad visas attractive, but they may find multi-destination, multi-year visas more interesting, especially when it comes to business. Strong handling of Covid-19 will also be a plus, and should be marketed as such, emphasising the relative safety of a beach or other leisure or business tourism destination. And of course, luxury or unique accommodation, and plenty of food and relaxation should be emphasised.
Increasing tourism in Covid-19 times is no doubt a huge challenge. But for some African countries, it is necessary for both revenue and jobs. Using this opportunity to focus on Chinese tourists may well be a golden choice.
Hannah Ryder is the CEO of Development Reimagined, a pioneering African-led international development consultancy based in China.
Rosie Wigmore is a research analyst at Development Reimagined, and specialises in global health issues.