Chinese tourists flock to SA

2013-05-13 08:21

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Cape Town — The number of tourists visiting South Africa grew by about 10% in 2012 and one nation helping that number grow is China.

Voice of America reports, as Chinese investment has grown in South Africa, so has Chinese tourism. China ranks fourth amongst countries sending tourists to South Africa, surpassing visitors from France.

Overall, tourism to South Africa grew by 10.2 percent from 2011 to 2012. While Europeans remain the biggest tourism group, the percentage of Chinese tourists grew by 56 percent from 2011 to 2012.

With more than 130 000 Chinese tourists visiting last year, South Africa is taking notice. The CEO of Cape Town Tourism, Mariette Du Toit-Helmbold said the industry is hiring Mandarin guides and translating websites into Mandarin.

"The message to the industry has been to understand what you are getting yourself into first. Make sure you are geared up to cater for the special needs of the Chinese market," said Du Toit-Helmbold.

But if businesses plan to market to this burgeoning tourism group, they need to make bigger changes than just putting up a Mandarin sign at the door, says Du Toit-Helmbold.

"My advice is build relationships. Invest in training your staff and then really look at attention to detail, the cultural nuances and provide for that. Attention to detail in terms of the Chinese culture, important little details like providing chopsticks, things that you might almost not think about, but almost has to be top of mind. Chinese magazines, Chinese newspapers."

The increase in tourists has come from several factors such as South Africa's inclusion in the economic group BRICS [Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa], which has strengthened the relationship with China.

Also, South Africa recently added new visa application centers in Beijing and Shanghai and last year South African Airways added direct flights from Beijing to Johannesburg.

While Cape Town tourism has been geared toward European and American travelers, who tend to travel in smaller groups or as couples, the Chinese market, at least at this point, is more focused on group tours.

Toit-Helmbold said some wineries are adding new tasting rooms to accommodate large groups, whereas in the past they used to be geared toward more intimate rooms for smaller groups and couples.

As this market continues to grow, however, Toit-Helmbold recommends businesses do their homework, and get ahead of the game.

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