African countries are missing out on a boom in Asian tourism, mainly from China, and must ease visa and entry requirements to tap into a historic shift generating billions of dollars in revenue, government officials and industry leaders said.
Over 97 million Chinese travelled abroad last year, according to research group Euromonitor, and as household incomes increase that number is on track to balloon to 259 million in 2030.
That would see China surpass the United States as the top origin nation for international travellers.
Yet only a fraction of Chinese travellers currently visit Africa.
“We got just under 100,000 tourists from China last year,” South African Tourism Minister Derek Hanekom told Reuters on the sidelines of a tourism conference in Stellenbosch, South Africa on Thursday.
“That’s not great. But the great thing is that the growth potential is huge.”
Tourism represents one of the fastest growing sectors in Africa, contributing nearly $178 billion last year, equivalent to 8.1 percent of GDP, according to the World Travel and Tourism Council.
North African countries have already begun to lift visa requirements for Chinese tourists, and the impact has been swift and striking. According to travel sector-focused business intelligence firm Forward Keys, when Morocco did away with visas for Chinese travellers in 2016, Chinese arrivals skyrocketed 440 percent. Tunisia followed suit the next year and arrivals increased 214 percent.