The Chinese are coming: What SA can expect from this tourism boom

2016-07-21 13:07 - Ra-ees Moerat
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Cape Town - It's no secret Chinese travellers love exploring, are bit finicky in their choices and sometimes even a bit rude (Thailand created an Chinese Tourism guide, including etiquette tips for goodness sake). 

But as this nation seems intent on satisfying its wanderlust to see the length and breadth of the globe, as some 65 million Chinese are expected to travel abroad this year - that's 10 million more than the SA population according to the latest census - and one in ten tourists worldwide, we're intrigued to find out more about them.

How to Be a Chinese Tourist 

A new documentary on Chinese tourists, specifically looking at the effects this growing segment of travellers has on popular destinations such as Paris, could be a good indication of what South Africa can expect.  The Al-Jazeera documentary, by award-winning  Aela CallanHow to Be a Chinese Tourist unpacks the silliness of Chinese tourists' behaviour but simultaneously checks the serious trends around their travelling habits.

The primary focus of How to Be a Chinese Tourist is set on Paris, France as this is said to be the preferred destination for the Chinese to visit outside of Asia. Last year, the Chinese spent an equivalent of R15.83 billion in Paris alone, dethroning the amount spent by the Japanese and Americans in this region.

According to Aela, they'e not entirely focused on taking in the arts or more iconic sites of the destinations around Paris, since the average Chinese tourist in France spends more on shopping than food, entertainment and accommodation combined. 

It's nothing to be sniffed at that Chinese travellers took a record 120 million trips overseas in 2015, added to this, Chinese travellers seem to love South Africa too. 

View the full documentary on How to Be a Chinese Tourist here:

'Chinese tourists to SA grew well over 60% between January and April'

The latest statistics presented by South African Tourism shows that the influx of Chinese tourists grew well over 60% between January and April this year, in comparison to last year’s statistics. Moreover, during this period, China was South Africa’s sixth largest inbound market and is most likely to increase, since the average income of China’s middle class is continuously rising.

Alarmingly, Chinese tourist arrivals in the country dropped by about 8% compared to the previous year in 2015.  While ease of access to South Africa, relating to visas and airlift are being addressed, South African Tourism has taken several constructive steps to ensure Chinese travellers feel welcomed, which includes communicating with tour guides, signage at our airports and tourism sites, and the translation of tourism information also need to be considered".  

In January 2016 the department of home affairs announced SA would implement an Accredited Travel Company programme in China (through the Chinese Approved Destination Status program) to process visa applications on behalf of travellers - this means that Chinese travellers to South Africa no longer need to make in-person applications at visa processing centres.

In addition, Chinese nationals also no longer require transit visas to travel to neighbouring countries.

South Africa has also opened two new visa facilitation centres in Chengdu and Guangzhou, in addition to the centres in Beijing and Shanghai, for travellers who want go to the centres directly. Five additional centres are expected to be opened at the end of April in Shenyang, Xi’an, Wuhan, Jinan and Hangzhou.

South African Tourism analysis shows that although tourism is predominantly from wealthy coastal provinces and so-called ‘1st tier’ cities, inland provinces are the new driving force of the Chinese overseas travel boom – due to rising disposable incomes, improved flight connections and easier visa access in fast-growing ‘2nd tier’ cities. Interestingly, travel agencies in inland provinces reported faster growth in outbound bookings than their counterparts in coastal areas.

'Less than 6% of China’s population currently holding a passport'

With less than 6% of China’s population currently holding a passport, there remains enormous potential for growth in overseas travel, and overall tourist spending, with South Africa attracting a growing tourism market share.

Further SAT data shows, between 2013 and 2015, Gauteng and the Western Cape statistically, are the two most visited provinces by Chinese tourists where they essentially spent most of their time in shopping malls, gambling facilities and family entertainment centres. 

While the increase of Chinese tourists to South Africa bodes well for the industry economically, should what has been deemed rude behaviour in certain instances by Chinese tourists be cause for concern.

They have been wildly accused of urinating in public, spitting on streets and kicking a sacred bell in a temple in Thailand.

Switzerland went as far as introducing separate public trains for them, accusing them of being ‘loud’ and ‘rude’ as they would allegedly spit in random public areas. Viral videos also depict a Chinese tourist taking a bath in a Venetian canal, a Chinese student scribbling his name on a sacred Egyptian temple in Egypt, as well as random fights in various locations. 

Conversely, China is working hard at instilling manners into their travel population by blacklisting them, preventing them from travelling abroad for as long as two years, which will ultimately streamline the Chinese tourism sector.   

ALSO SEE: Chinese passengers blacklisted for travel following bad behaviour

Says Bradley Brouwer, head of Asia Pacific for South African Tourism, "We appreciate that some are not seasoned travellers, and new to long-haul overseas travel. So such rare incidents of reported behaviour are mostly caused by lack of experience in coping with differences in terms of culture, lifestyle and habits.

"To overcome this, we advise hotels and airports to provide as much Chinese assistance and service as possible: such as Chinese speaking staff, Chinese brochures, maps and cultural guides. We also advise hotels to provide Chinese travellers with kettles, slippers, pot noodles and tea bags, which are essential Chinese home comforts.  

"More importantly hotels and tour operators wanting to market to Chinese travellers must train their staff on how to bridge the cultural gap and engage and enthuse Chinese travellers in a heartfelt way.

"It should be stressed, though, that the vast majority are globally conscious, seasoned travellers who are perfectly polite and enthusiastic to experience a new culture in an authentically local way."

'Proactively reached out to Chinese travellers in many ways'

Brower says SAT has proactively reached out to Chinese travellers in many ways to showcase the real South Africa, encouraging them to choosing the country as an exciting travel destination, while addressing their questions and any concerns. 

"SAT has built a solid relationship with the Chinese media, inviting them to visit to produce in-depth feature stories and reports. SAT also has a very strong presence on social media platforms, constantly posting authentic and enticing content as well as helpful travel tips on Weibo and WeChat, which are the two most dominant digital platforms in China." 

As a result says Brower, Chinese travellers are becoming increasingly familiar with South Africa through articles, posts and travel tips shared by key opinion leaders.

"By learning more about what the country has to offer and what can be expected, travellers are more motivated to visit."

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