A recent study conducted by global media commerce company, Travelzoo, has revealed that Africa is the new top destination for Chinese tourists in 2018.

Travelzoo Travel Trends surveyed 1 671 Travelzoo members in China in an online study in January. Over 60% of respondents said they planned to travel ‘in-depth’ in 2018 – a term used by travel websites in China to describe trips that are more unconventional and beyond the ‘typical tourist experience’. And for the first time, Africa has moved to first place as the top in-depth travel destination for Chinese travellers.

Among the destinations named were South Africa, Namibia, Tanzania, Morocco, Tunisia and Madagascar. The easing of the visa requirements for Morocco and Tunisia saw rapid growth of tourism to the countries, with the six months following the relaxation of the visa requirements seeing a 378% year-on-year growth in Morocco, and 240% year-on-year growth in Tunisia.

The survey also showed a 25% increase in the number of requests from Chinese tourists planning to take five or more holidays abroad in 2018. The lifting of major visa restrictions has opened up Africa as an experiential destination, with beach holidays being a top activity of interest to Chinese travellers, followed by food and wine, then historic attractions.

South Africa is rich in regional, culinary and historic offerings, presenting a major opportunity for the country to secure a solid percentage of Chinese tourism. “What we need to do,” says David Frost, CEO of the Southern Africa Tourism Services Association (Satsa), “is see where our ‘destination competitors’ are succeeding, what they are doing to attract these Chinese tourists, and implement a localised version of that strategy”.

In the Satsa Gauteng Chapter Meeting held today, March 19, tourist arrivals year-on-year for the 2016 versus the 2017 periods were highlighted, which saw 117 144 Chinese arrivals to South Africa in 2016, and only 97 069 in 2017 – a 17% decrease year-on-year. Whereas SA’s biggest long-haul competitor, Australia, saw a 12% increase in tourists, from 1 199 100 in 2016 to 1 350 100 in 2017.

“What the Australians are doing,” says Frost, “is focusing, as a unified government/industry unit, on making it as easy as possible for the Chinese to enter their country. We need to shift the point of departure to what we want to achieve with our tourism in South Africa – that being, more lucrative tourism for our country – and then work backwards from that to develop a strategy that will achieve that goal”.

One of SA’s challenges is its visa restrictions making it challenging for tourists to enter the country. Other African countries have waived, or are looking at waiving, visas altogether, which is smart strategising if you consider that tourism is becoming very much about the ‘customer/tourist experience’.

“A large part of the competitive space in tourism is shifting to ease of access, and we need to be playing in that space,” concludes Frost.