As international travel from China begins to pick up again in 2023, South Africa has a real opportunity to attract Chinese tourists and give the economy a much-needed boost. But change is needed to really take advantage of this opportunity.
In 2019, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic and associated lockdowns, Chinese travellers led the world in international travel, embarking on 155 million journeys and injecting US$255 billion into the global economy, as per data from the United Nations World Tourism Organization. Despite this staggering figure, South Africa only attracted a meagre 0.6% of these affluent travellers.
Fast forward to 2023, and the landscape of international travel is markedly different. China’s cautious reopening has cast a spotlight on Africa, with South Africa emerging as one of the first three nations on the continent to roll out the welcome mat to Chinese visitors in the post-COVID era.
It’s worth noting that as of Q4 2023, international flight routes from China to the rest of the world had only recovered to around 30% to 40% of pre-pandemic levels. This presents a great opportunity for South Africa to bring these visitors to its shores.
Marcus Lee, CEO of China Travel Online, offers some insights ahead of his talk at WTM Africa 2024, which takes place from 10 to 12 April 2024 at the CTICC in Cape Town.
Improving flight connections
A significant challenge in South Africa’s tourism sector is the absence of direct flights from China to popular South African destinations like Cape Town, which can inconvenience Chinese tourists who prefer direct routes.
“Connectivity is a crucial aspect that South Africa must address to fully tap into the potential of the Chinese travel market,” states Lee. “Improved flight connectivity can significantly reduce travel time and inconvenience for Chinese tourists.”
Adaptation to the preferences of Chinese travellers
South Africa’s current efforts in becoming ‘China Ready’ may have room for improvement, according to Lee. This means adapting to Chinese preferences, which includes language-friendly services, cultural understanding and amenities catering to Chinese customs and traditions. Offering training programmes and initiatives could help South African businesses and professionals better understand and meet the expectations of Chinese travellers.
“Professional Chinese input plays a vital role in making destinations more ‘China Ready,’” he says. “Seeking guidance and expertise from individuals or organisations well-versed in Chinese culture, preferences and travel behaviour is essential.”
Enhanced promotion and marketing strategies
While South Africa has a presence in China and engages in promotional activities, there is still a need for more effective strategies. Lee explains, “To attract Chinese tourists effectively, we need a comprehensive approach. That includes not just online marketing but also offline activities like attending exhibitions and roadshows. These efforts can boost South Africa’s visibility among Chinese tourists.”
Not only should South Africa step up its promotional efforts, it’s crucial to create travel packages tailored specifically to Chinese tourists and diversify the country’s tourism offerings to cater to different preferences, from luxury to more affordable experiences.
With China opening up for international travel again, there’s a real opportunity for South Africa to tap into the Chinese tourist market. As one of the first African countries to welcome back Chinese visitors, making travel easier, understanding their culture better, and using smart marketing are key strategies.