Understanding the Chinese traveller is key to growing southern and East Africa’s tourism industry, with the number of Chinese outbound trips predicted to rise exponentially by 2023. Tourism Update gains insight from industry leaders into understanding and capturing this growing outbound market.

According to Kwakye Donkor, Africa Tourism Partners (ATP) CEO, there is major potential for Africa to further tap into the Chinese market, however the tourism industry is yet to make inroads with regard to understanding and catering for this market.

Donkor touches on ‘China readiness’: “Is Africa ready to welcome the Chinese if we start receiving the desired numbers? I don’t think we are yet, nor are a lot of properties.”

The multi-level Chinese traveller

Lindi Mthethwa, Group Sales Director of BON Hotels, says Africa needs to stop grouping Chinese travellers together, as there are different clientele, ranging from the luxury traveller to the middle-class traveller, and then Chinese group tours, with the latter wanting to experience as much as possible in the shortest time possible, especially a safari.

The Asian market is keen to learn about new cultures, and experience different things, says Mthethwa: “They brag about it, and then their peers want to experience the same.”

China has got some of the highest income earners in the world, according to Donkor, with a growing luxury travel market, which Africa has not fully tapped into.

Suzanne Benadie, Sales Director at Tourvest DMC, says the Chinese high-end tourists have more experience when it comes to travel, and will take up the high-end products. In addition, she says they have a keen interest in local cuisine and wines.  

High-end Chinese travellers come to Africa for its luxury facilities, attractions and unique African experiences, according to Donkor. “We are one of the only continents where you have white lions, the Big Five, beaches, the bush, as well as urban areas (cities) and culture. We have everything, so the uniqueness of Africa lends itself to that kind of luxury.”

When travelling for a wildlife experience, Donkor says southern and East Africa has some of the best, most luxurious game reserves in the world, “and that is what the Chinese travellers come for”.

Luxury and business travel

Understanding the Chinese traveller is more than just speaking the language (Mandarin). It is about understanding their culture, as Donkor says the type of Chinese travellers visiting Africa come for either luxury or business, therefore are educated and have money to spend, and can speak English. The other segment of Chinese travellers visiting Africa tends to be younger, such as millennials and generation X tourists who, according to Mthethwa, are tech savvy, and want connectivity such as WiFi and Internet. “They may consider not staying at a hotel if there isn’t WiFi.”

Culture and language

“It is more about understanding their culture than just the language, and that is what is critical,” adds Donkor.

Chinese travellers need to have the right product, according to Benadie, with Mandarin-speaking staff and guides at hand. 

Learning the language is a bonus, says Donkor, as it forms part of their culture, but understanding the bigger picture is key; understanding their culture and the little things that will satisfy this type of traveller.

The Chinese traveller has high expectations and standards, only wanting quality facilities and experiences when visiting Africa. “We talk of the quality because the high-end Chinese travellers coming to Africa have money to spend, and they are well travelled. We have to try and up our standards to be able to cater for them, and because money is not an issue, they can afford the best. It’s making sure we meet the standards that are required,” concludes Donkor.

To further gain insight into this market, ATP, in collaboration with Global Connection Red Star Travel, is inviting members of the trade to participate in its first China Outbound Travel and Tourism Market (COTTM) and a three cities roadshow from April 10 to 17.

For more information or to register, email Nozipho Dlamini at Nozipho@africatourismpartners.com, or Anna Allman at annaredstar@hotmail.com.