• A China Southern Airlines flight carrying a group of 40 Chinese tourists arrived at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport.
• Since February 6, China's Ministry of Culture and Tourism has resumed outbound group tours service to 20 countries
Successful group tours could benefit Kenya and beyond as tourism is one of the major industries in many African countries, and it's very important to the economic development.
On February 11, senior Kenyan officials and executives welcomed the first Chinese travel group tour after three years of pandemic-related hiatus at a ceremony in the capital of Nairobi.
A China Southern Airlines flight carrying a group of 40 Chinese tourists arrived at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport. Since February 6, China's Ministry of Culture and Tourism has resumed outbound group tours service to 20 countries, with Egypt, South Africa, Kenya, New Zealand, UAE and others first in line.
Why does it matter to Kenya and other African countries?
According to Kenyan government reports, China is Kenya's sixth largest tourism source market and the second biggest source market from Asia, contributing 5.5 per cent of total international tourist arrivals to the country.
Though it’s a relatively small number compared to its top tourism source market in the US and the UK, the tourism market in China is booming, and the potential is huge since China is the world's biggest outbound travel market.
In 2019, China’s total number of outbound tourist trips hit 155 million, while its total expenditure on outbound tourism reached $277 billion in 2018, according to the World Tourism Organization.
The market potentials are enormous, but the competition is severe too.
I have been living and working in several African countries for years. Since 2010, the continent has witnessed an increasing number of Chinese tourists. Egypt, South Africa, Mauritius and Seychelles are the top destinations, mainly for their well-branding in China, more direct flights to Chinese cities and easier visa policies.
For Chinese travellers’ tendency of interest in Africa, two major trends shall be noticed. One is that Africa is becoming more popular on Chinese outbound travel map. Their travel destinations have expanded from Egypt and South Africa to other African countries such as Morocco, Tanzania, Namibia and Kenya. More countries have joined the competition for more Chinese tourists and invested more in market promotion in China.
In 2016, Morocco’s visa-free policy for Chinese tourists had a big success, with a surging number of inbound Chinese tourists from 43,000 that year to over 107,000 in 2017. Morocco’s success has more followers.
In 2017, Tunisia implemented the same visa policy for Chinese travellers and tripled its inbound visitors from China. Ethiopia, South Africa, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Zimbabwe have all lifted visa requirements to make it easier for Chinese nationals to travel to their countries.
Visa-free, multi-destination and multi-entry visas have more advantages in the competitions of the Chinese outbound travel market, especially when it comes to luxury business tours. For example, the US, Japan and South Korea all have 10-year multi-entry visa policies for Chinese tourists and business travelers.
From my experience, the single tourism visa of the East African Community and the coordination of travel agencies among Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda could be a good marketing point as it would allow the Chinese visitors to tour the three travel spots without additional visa requirements. I have applied for that visa, but not many Chinese people are familiar with the visa process.
The other trend is that the requirements for good quality and well-designed travel schedules are essential. For Chinese travellers, the cost of traveling to Africa is still relatively high compared to others destinations such as Southeast Asia, Europe and the Middle East. Therefore, the quality and diversity of traveling are essential.
Items on Chinese travellers’ schedules are no longer only focusing on safari but also on hiking, diving, cultural experience and many others. An impressive service and excellent travel experience will help Kenyan and African tourism sectors to build good branding among Chinese travellers, especially for the young generations.
Shen Shiwei is a columnist and CGTN journalist. Research fellow on African studies