China had the world's largest outbound tourism market before the pandemic. China is about to open its borders for international travel after imposing strict travel bans when the Covid-19 pandemic started.In 2019, the number of outbound Chinese tourists peaked at nearly 155 million, of which just over 93 000 chose SA.The national chair of hospitality industry body, Fedhasa, says the Chinese market can help the SA tourism industry recover.For more financial news, go to the News24 Business front page.China is about to reopen its borders, and now is the time for South Africa's tourism industry to capture a slice of this lucrative outbound tourist market, says Rosemary Anderson, the national chair of hospitality industry body, Fedhasa. The South African tourism industry was hard hit by Covid-19 travel restrictions, says Anderson, and attracting visitors from China could be one way of boosting recovery.China had the world's largest outbound tourism market before the pandemic. In 2019, the number of outbound Chinese tourists peaked at nearly 155 million. South Africa only attracted just over 93 000 Chinese travellers. "There are hopes that the pent-up demand for travel likely to exist in China could benefit South Africa in 2023. Of course, the opportunity of increasing inbound arrivals from China must be seen within our priority to keep South Africans safe," says Anderson."We are confident our government authorities will lead with science to ascertain whether or not it is necessary to introduce screening measures for incoming travellers from China as other countries have done."Several countries are introducing Covid-19 testing and other measures for travellers from China. This has evoked criticism from the Chinese government as well as some in the travel industry.The International Air Transport Association (IATA), for example, sees such measures as a "knee-jerk reinstatement of measures that have proven ineffective over the last three years"."Governments should listen to the advice of experts, including the WHO, that advise against travel restrictions. We have the tools to manage Covid-19 without resorting to ineffective measures that cut off international connectivity, damage economies and destroy jobs," states IATA.'Massive potential' Anderson says there are ways in which SA can make itself a more attractive destination for Chinese tourists."South Africa has long sought to attract Chinese travellers, but numbers have remained low. We hope that as part of [the SA government's] efforts to ease visa applications, our government will recognise the massive potential held by the Chinese market in helping our recovery," says Anderson.Furthermore, she points out that it would be a mistake to assume that the Chinese market is homogenous."There isn't such a thing as a 'Chinese tourist'. Like any market, they are diverse in their budgets, ages, interests and travel motivations. Well-heeled Chinese tourists transformed destinations, like Las Vegas and Perth, with their luxury travel spend," says Anderson. Newsletter Daily SA Money Daily The biggest business, economic and market news of the day. Sign up
Countries like Australia, the US and Japan - all popular among Chinese travellers - have introduced several initiatives to improve their attractiveness over the years. Some initiatives include employing aligned public and private sector marketing initiatives specifically aimed at the Chinese market. For example, ensuring destination and product information is available on Chinese search engines and marketing on Chinese social media channels, like Weibo and WeChat. "We should also have a strong trade focus as much of the international travel booked from China is done through travel agents and tour operators," says Anderson.Other ways to become more "Chinese tourist-friendly" include offering payment platforms, like WeChat Pay and Alipay, being aware of when Chinese holidays take place, learning key phrases in Mandarin, and training tourist guides to speak Mandarin. One can also offer dining experiences aimed at Chinese tastes."It would be useful for establishments and their staff to undergo some form of 'China readiness' training beforehand," suggests Anderson.Michael Puffet, business development manager of booking platform Profitroom South Africa, says after the pandemic, it seems tourists want to add meaning to their international travels."Trying to predict the future is always a tricky business, but barring any more black swan events, we are confident that SA's travel industry will continue to show signs of improved health," says Puffet."By using technology [to gather data about] people's desires for more meaningful, flexible or holistic travel experiences, [one] can not only help ensure the sustainability of the travel industry, but the places people travel to as well.