Zimbabwe says it is to join 45 other African countries who have invited experts to understand the Chinese culture, as it moves to come up with tailor made tourism products to boost arrivals from Beijing following a poor show.

This follows a much-hyped but futile marketing onslaught into China meant to earn a share of its $115 billion annual spend on tourism.

Tourism industry reports indicate that Chinese tourists have been preferring to visit neighbouring countries.

With an expanding middle class and home to 18,4 percent of the world population, China has emerged as one of the world’s biggest tourism source markets since 2000.

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Zimbabwe accelerated its drive to attract Chinese visitors from 2005, when former president Robert Mugabe adopted the ‘Look East’ policy, following a diplomatic stand-off with the west, which affected arrivals.

After being bestowed with the approved destination status by China in 2003, the projected boom has failed.

This week, Zimbabwe’s Environment, Tourism and Hospitality Industry Minister Priscah Mupfumira said the trick was to be certified ‘China Ready’ to guarantee memorable experiences for Chinese tourists.

The ‘China Ready’ training, which took place on Sunday, encourages the creation of relevant packages for Chinese tourists.

“Anyone ignoring China at this moment can do so at their own peril given that the country is now globally acknowledged as a vital source market,” Mupfumira said.

“The Chinese have spent over US$115 billion globally in outbound tourism expenditure in 2018 and are projected by the United Nations World Tourism Organisation to double the current outbound trips to 200 million by 2020,” she said.

Priscah Mupfumira

Zimbabwe Tourism Authority acting chief executive officer, Rita Likukuma said understanding what the Chinese expected was would be vital in improving the services at their disposal and make them happy.

According to a report by Africa Albida Tourism (AAT), one of Zimbabwe’s biggest tourism firms, while there has been an increase in Chinese tourist arrivals in Zimbabwe in the past three years, they were prioritising attractions in neighbouring South Africa and Zambia.

About 6 925 Chinese tourists visited Zimbabwe in 2015, before the number increased to 9 164 in 2016 and 14 407 last year.

This is nowhere near 84 878, 117 144 and 97 271 Chinese tourists who visited SA during the three years respectively.

On the other hand, 20 648, 20 120 and 26 562 Chinese tourists visited Zambia during the same periods respectively.

These arrivals were almost double the numbers that flew into Zimbabwe, the report indicates.

Zimbabwe and Zambia share pretty much the same attractions.

The two nations co-hosted the United Nations World Tourism Organisation general assembly in 2013.

In the report, AAT made little reference to China as a prospective source market for Africa in the coming year.

Instead, it gave a positive outlook for other countries, such as the United Kingdom.

“There are a lot of issues that Zimbabwe needs to adopt to be China Ready,” said Lee Marcus of Welcome China, which conducted the training.

“These include understanding the Chinese, their culture, food preferences, knowing a bit about the Chinese language and that Zimbabwe needs to learn to customize tourism activities,” he added.

He made recommendations on how to make the airport, restaurants, hotels and other ancillary services more user friendly for the Chinese were made.