The Department of Home Affairs has announced that it will gradually relax the visa restrictions applicable to Chinese travelers wanting to come to South Africa to attend the 2010 FIFA World Cup. Tourists and journalists attending the 2009 FIFA Confederations Cup and the 2010 FIFA World Cup will now be allowed to leave their country for a period of three months, without having to obtain a visa. In addition, individual Chinese travelers coming to South Africa on business will be granted visas, provided they pay a refundable deposit of 15 000 Chinese Yuan.
This news was welcomed by South African Tourism (SAT), which is currently running a major 2010 marketing drive in Beijing and Hong Kong. Cape Town Routes Unlimited (CTRU), Mpumalanga Tourism and Parks, Bitou Tourism, Eastern Cape Tourism and 17 other private product owners like Sun International and Southern Sun have joined SAT on this week-long China Trade Show. During the first leg (3-5 June 2009), South African companies directly engaged with top Chinese outbound travel agents and operators on the diverse South African tourism offerings. This year the interest was so high that the programme was oversubscribed by 45 Chinese travel participants. Besides the serious business to business exchanges, SAT also arranged a Viva SA 2010 Mini World Cup, where representatives of the two countries engaged in a more informal, fun-filled way.
The first leg included a lively mall-activation, where SAT’s Chief Financial Officer, Johan van der Walt, opened a photographic exhibition named: “South Africa Through The Chinese Lens”. The exhibition is the culmination of a project where SAT hosted ten Chinese photographers on a familiarisation tour through the country. The photographers brought their powerful, raw images back to their home country and through huge media interest created a powerful marketing drive for South Africa, its people and tourism jewels.
Addressing journalists representing 23 of China’s top mainstream and travel media on Thursday, CEO of CTRU, Calvyn Gilfellan, welcomed the relaxation of some of the visa restrictions: “My impression after interacting directly with Chinese tour operators, is that potential Chinese visitors who want to come to our destination are discouraged by factors such as proximity; the nature of their short, annual holiday breaks as well as safety and security. The more we work around these and other influencing factors, the better the result for the Cape Town and Western Cape tourism industry. This is a huge market and South Africa can do much better than the 40 320 Chinese tourists of last year.”
Although foreign arrivals to South Africa have grown with 5.5% from 9,090,881 in 2007 to 9,591,828 in 2008, the Chinese market has shown an annual drop of 14.9%. Factors such as the aftermath of the Sichuan earthquake, which saw the Chinese government urging all government departments and parastatals to cut down on approving business trips to foreign countries in a bid to save money to rebuild those devastated areas, and the Beijing Olympics have contributed to this decline. However, if the January 2009 figures are anything to go by, this market is making a strong come-back. Arrivals in January 2009 (4,811) were 19.9% higher over the same period (4,013) of last year.
Gilfellan is en route to Hong Kong for the last leg of the trade show (9-11 June 2009), where he will inform local travel agents and operators about Cape Town and the Western Cape’s state of preparedness for 2010, new tourism developments and the general state of the industry. Gilfellan has already started the ball rolling by organising a media delegation of 10 sports journalists and editors, from the major TV Networks and print journals, on a tour of Green Point Stadium on Wednesday 24 June 2009. “Any serious tourism destination that ignores this awakening tourism giant will do so at their own peril. Industry should take introspection and gear itself from a supply point of view to meet the varied demands of Chinese, Asian but also African travelers. Given the affect of the global economic crisis on our traditional Western markets, we simply cannot let this wonderful opportunity slip through our fingers.” concludes Gilfellan.