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Chinese Visitors Help South Africa's Tourist Industry


Growing prosperity in China is beginning to affect the global tourism industry. More and more Chinese are traveling abroad - especially this week, which includes the lunar New Year. One place that is benefiting from this trend is South Africa. A surge in Chinese visitors is helping South Africa's tourism industry achieve double-digit growth. For VOA, Terry FitzPatrick reports from Cape Town.

"Ni Hao. Hello. Hello. Hello."

Twenty one Chinese tourists are about to take the ride of their lives.

The tour guide is preparing this group for a cable-car journey. From the top of Table Mountain, they will enjoy a panoramic view of Africa's southern tip.

A few years ago, only a handful of Chinese visitors came to South Africa. But more than 800,000 now make the trip, every year. China is one of the top ten sources of tourists coming here. One member of this group, Yang Tao, has come so his family can experience a new culture.

"I take my son and daughter because this is a different country. I want to let them know a different culture," Tao said.

Another member of the group, 13-year-old Christine Chen, says Africa is exciting.

"I like travel," Chen said. "And, some of my classmates told me Africa is very beautiful. I want to come here and see the different kinds of things."

This tour was organized by Stephen Li of the United Touring Company. He moved to Cape Town more than a decade ago, to pioneer the development of Chinese tourism. Li says South Africa is an attractive destination. He says the Chinese are drawn to casinos, diamond shops, beaches and game parks.

"Most of the Chinese thinking is, if they have the opportunity to go out for travel, they can see wildlife, the animals," Li said. "This is really a very good opportunity for them. This is what they are looking for."

Several factors are fueling the growth in Chinese visits throughout Africa. One is the growth of international investments by Chinese companies. This is building familiarity with African countries among politicians, engineers and entrepreneurs. Another factor is growing prosperity inside parts of China. Li says a new generation of business leaders now has money to spend on holidays abroad.

"Many of them, they own their own business," Li said. "They are the big spenders. When they come, they pay."

South Africa has been marketing itself inside China. Advertisements have been subtitled in Mandarin for broadcast on Chinese television.

"I am an African. I owe my being to the hills and the valleys, the mountains and the glades, the rivers, the deserts, the trees, the flowers, the seas and the ever-changing seasons that define the face of our native land."

This commercial features South African President Thabo Mbeki. The pictures portray South Africa as a place of rich scenic beauty and deep cultural history. It is designed to break the stereotype that all Africans are plagued by poverty and war.

'Today it feels good to be an African," Mr. Mbeki said.

Cape Town tourism representative Debbie Damant says this kind of advertisement connects with the needs of Chinese travelers.

"They are a different kind of person. And, their needs are different from anyone from the U.S. or European visitor. They want the adventure without the danger," Damant said. " They want the culture without too much invasion. They travel in groups. And, they love their own. They're very protective."

Damant has been on two marketing trips to China. South Africa has opened a tourism office in Bejing. More than 40 million Chinese travel abroad each year and Damant says it is critical to develop tourism ties as the Chinese market grows.

"They have projected in terms of the world tourism association that they will be the largest outbound market in the next five to ten years," Damant said. "So it's important for us to make sure we actually have our foot in the door."

Africa is not the top destination for Chinese tourists. Europe is. But, in the past year, the number of Chinese visiting South Africa shot up 11 percent, making this one of the fastest-growing Chinese tourist destinations.

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