The world has become a planet of tourists: and the Chinese are its leaders – why is Botswana going opposite direction?

02 Sep 2018

The last few years have seen a rapid growth in the number of Chinese tourists visiting the world.

A little over 100 million Chinese tourists are known to have travelled from the mainland last year alone.

So important have the Chinese become to countries that are marketing themselves are tourists destinations that such countries have either increased their presence and visibility in China or are spending a fortune on China based travel agencies to act on their behalf in wooing the Chinese.

China, with a population of 1.3 billion people is not only a natural market for tourists, but because of the tremendous economic growth that China has been experiencing non-stop for almost a generation now, it has become a trite that the Chinese have large and still growing size of disposable and discretionary incomes.

Chinese tourists are always bearing a lot of money to spend.

The European capitals like London, Berlin and Paris are literally falling over themselves to convince these money-laden Chinese to include them in their travel schedules.

They do so by going an extra mile in creating impressive tourism packages.

Applications for Visas have been made much easier and much cheaper.

For many countries, Visas are offered on arrival.

The archaic procedures of applying for Visas while at home and then having one to wait for months before one can know the outcome of their application have long been abandoned in favour of swift and friendly ways.

Yet Botswana, a so-called tourist destination of choice still does not see the value of all these latest innovations, long adopted by other countries in their quest to attract foreign travellers, especially the Chinese.

Chinese tourists are known to be among the wealthiest in the world, throwing money around and all too eager to outspend tourists from other traditional places like the United States and Europe.

A recent report by the world renowned consultants, McKinsey, says that in the United Kingdom, an average Chinese tourist spends far more than double an American average.

The same report says the Chinese are by far the biggest spenders in absolute as well as per capita terms.

According to the World Travel and Tourism Council the Chinese spent $253 billion abroad during that same period.

It is estimated that in 2021, the Chinese will spend $430 billion abroad.

But the Chinese tourists are particular about a few things, chief of which is convenience.

Reports cited above show that these visitors do not want to come to countries that are difficult to enter.

Many African countries have over the years been growing their share of China’s tourism Yuan; Rwanda, Zimbabwe, Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, South Africa, Namibia and Tanzania are prime examples.

These countries’ growth in the share of Chinese global tourism did not come by luck. It came as a result of deliberate reforms in immigration policies of the respective countries.

Realising the phenomenal importance of the Chinese tourists, countries the world over have come up with profound changes to lure the Chinese.

It is thus surprising that Botswana has been going the opposite route.

Not only has the number of Chinese tourists to Botswana been on the decline, Botswana authorities have been making it much more difficult for the Chinese to visit.

Nowhere is this contrast more stark and glaring than in the case of Chobe and the Victoria Falls – two world renowned tourism enclaves.

Chobe is Botswana’s premier tourist destination while Victoria Falls is Zimbabwe’s premier tourist destination.

Separated by a river boarder that snakes between them, the two centers are only about 70 kilometers apart.

On the Zimbabwean side of the border the Chinese tourists are a buzzing and growing phenomenon. While on the Botswana side a Chinese tourist is a rarity. This has got everything to do with the starkly different immigration policies of the two countries.

Not only is Zimbabwe actively cultivating the Chinese tourists, all efforts have been made to ensure that entrance at the border for these important economic visitors is almost hassle free.

Botswana on the other hand has opted to adopt a policy that effectively amounts to banning of the Chinese in the country; Visas into Botswana are expensive and difficult to get.

This week president Mokgweetsi Masisi will travel to China for a state visit that will be followed by the Forum on China –Africa Cooperation.

President Masisi carries with him tens of business people from Botswana.

We can only that in his interactions with his Chinese counterpart he will always remember just where easy money lies – tourism.

And also just how far behind his government lags in world race to attract the Chinese tourists.