The number of Chinese tourists to South Africa jumped by 39 percent in the first quarter of 2004 compared with the same period of last year, the country's Tourism Board announced on Thursday.
The sharp increase of Chinese visitors was a result of the fact that South Africa was granted Approved Destination Status by China in April 2003, said the board's chief executive officer Cheryl Carolus.
A fast-growing tourism destination in the world, South Africa draws approximately 6.5 million foreign tourists each year.
Although foreign arrivals in the first quarter of 2004 was 0.8 percent lower than the same period in 2003, largely due to last year's Cricket World Cup that attracted 18,000 fans, South Africa still compares well with the rest of the world, Carolus said.
On average, world tourism statistics show a 1 percent to 2 percent decrease in overseas arrivals.
On the contrary, well-off Chinese who can afford overseas traveling are becoming the majority of Asian tourists to South Africa.
And travel agency operators in both countries predict an even greater bloom of Chinese travelers since the potential of the Chinese market is still huge and many have yet to discover the beauty of South Africa due to scarce of promotion campaigns.
"In many Chinese people's mind, Africa is first of all a place of diseases, strife and poverty, rather than the land of breathtaking landscape and diversified cultures," Kuang Ruilin, a businessman from south China's Nanning City, told Xinhua.
Kuang, who just finished his tour to Cape Town and Johannesburg, admitted that many Chinese, just like himself, know little about South Africa due to lack of information.
Most people planning to travel abroad tend to choose Hong Kong, Southeast Asian countries, Australia, New Zealand, and European nations as their destinations.
China has granted the Approved Destination Status to 26 countries so far, including African countries such as South Africa, Kenya and most recently Zimbabwe.
Predictable influx of Chinese tourists has prompted the Zimbabwean government to launch a promotional campaign in China, while training local employees to speak Mandarin and cook Chinese food for better service.
Carolus' agency has also established an office in Beijing to promote tours to South Africa.
(Xinhua News Agency June 18, 2004)