China could be the next big game changer for Southern and East Africa’s tourism industry, and with Chinese President, Xi Jinping recently facilitating trade and investment through $60bn funding for Africa during the recent Forum on China Africa Cooperation, the tourism potential of this market is significant.

Kwakye Donkor, CEO of Africa Tourism Partners told Tourism Update that Africa had only seen the tip of the iceberg regarding Chinese travellers.

“As China and Africa strengthen relations, the opportunity here for Africa and the tourism industry is big,” says Donkor. “They (Chinese) come as investors, and as they invest they take the opportunity to further explore the continent.”

Dr Karikoga Kaseke, Zimbabwe Tourism Authority (ZTA) CEO, agreed, saying Zimbabwe and Africa, especially the Southern African Development Community region could capitalise on the good relations shared with China to facilitate growth for the tourism economy.

During a hosted dinner by South African Tourism at Blaque Wine and Grill House in Johannesburg, Sisa Ntshona, CEO of SA Tourism told Tourism Update that only a small percentage of Chinese had passports, so it is a growing space. “It is the world’s second-largest economy, and it is really going to be the number-one sector in terms of tourism.”

According to Dr. Kaseke, China’s GDP stands at $10 trillion, its population is over 1.3 billion, and its outbound tourist population is 140 million per year – a number that is expected to grow to 200 million by 2020.

Donkor says the Chinese tend to be high-end travellers and the industry needs to know how to cater for their wants, needs and culture. He says it is vital to educate service suppliers, accommodation establishments and all those involved in the tourism industry on how best to host Chinese travellers, as cultural and language barriers are huge.

Linh Le, Asia DMC Group MD, told Tourism Update: “I do think there is a strong opportunity for this market to Southern and East African destinations, however some infrastructural challenges are needed, with Chinese-speaking guides (or translators), along with some changes to lodgings to factor in Chinese style/inspired meals.”

In a recent presentation, tour operator Steve Zivanai Kezhau, a Chinese national living in Zimbabwe, said: “A Chinese traveller wants to see the local culture, they want the best hotels, with Internet connectivity… they don’t like eating meat, they want more vegetables, so the understanding of Chinese cuisine is important,” reports Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation.

To really unleash the potential the Chinese market holds, Donkor says those in the tourism industry should travel to China to further understand this type of high-end traveller and relay the message that Africa is not a hard place to visit, as well as address perceptions around safety and security.

“The industry should not just wait for them to come,” adds Donkor, suggesting the industry looks at combining roadshows and tradeshows when visiting China, as it is a long-haul destination, and this way one can ensure they meet all the key players in the trade, whilst gaining an understanding of this key source market.

China has the largest outbound tourism population in the world, a market that is critical to the global tourism economy, says Dr. Kaseke, adding that Zimbabwe must work with other countries in the region to package the destination and improve the volumes of Chinese travellers coming to Southern Africa.

Ntshona said it was important to get the visa regime sorted out within the Chinese market. “We need to redefine what China means to us (SA), and get that in place. If you don’t have a China plan, you are in trouble,” concluded Ntshona.