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China-Africa Relations, BRICS and Tourism

In the realm of China-Africa relations, this article discusses tourism, the role of African countries in the BRICS group, and the associated opportunities and challenges. It explores the potential synergies between tourism, economic blocs, and mega infrastructure projects in enhancing the collaborative prospects between Africa and China, offering a glimpse into the future dynamics of this critical partnership.


This article includes insights from the dialogue with the Director of the African Chamber in China, Jilles Djon, providing valuable perspectives on this domain.


What is your perspective on the prevailing subjects in contemporary Africa-China relations? What are the current opportunities and challenges that must be taken into consideration in the context of this relationship?


The current focal point of discussion relates to the competition between Western nations and Chinese counterparts on the African continent. There isn't a week passing by without officials from either the United States or the European Union visiting one of the 54 African countries, providing explanations of the potential drawbacks or limitations of Chinese investment as solutions. African governments are currently experiencing significant pressure.


There are nations such as Ethiopia that experienced very tough sanctions a few years ago. Now, they need to modify their approach towards China in order for them to restore a state of amicability aligned with Western values. Zambia faces similar difficulties. Moreover, in order to restructure one's debt, it is necessary to reveal investment agreements made with China, thereby gaining comprehensive insight into the underlying components. When engaging in discussions with African leaders and government authorities, the main concern relates to the avoidance of conflicts with Western nations, as well as the preservation of the investment strategies implemented by the Chinese.


Currently, there are three primary themes under consideration. Firstly, the Belt and Road initiative has delivered its first ten years. Then, there is the debt crisis in numerous African countries due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly hindered the ability of numerous governments to produce sufficient money for debt servicing, hence exacerbating the ongoing debt crisis. Lastly, Western nations are exerting pressure through initiatives like the "build back better" programme in the United States, which directly competes with Chinese investments. These countries are urging governments to discontinue the use of Chinese products in order to secure loans. Therefore, the geopolitical landscape in Africa is characterised by a high level of tension and pressure.


A notable development in recent months has been the expansion of BRICS. This expansion has further strengthened the relationship between Beijing and the African continent, while also generating increased interest in the African continent. Could the inclusion of new African members in BRICS, as well as the growing influence of Africa within this association of countries, result in a rise in the number of mega projects and increase the value of the relations between Beijing and Africa?


South Africa joined the BRICS alliance in 2010, a year after the alliance was officially established. However, since that time, there has been a lack of noticeable increase in investment within South Africa as a result of its membership in BRICS. The BRICS encompasses not only African nations, but also includes Latin American countries, which hold significant political and geopolitical importance for China. Based on empirical evidence observed over the course of around a decade, China is unlikely to dramatically increase their investments within the African continent because of the BRICS expansion.


What can be observed is that the recently established BRICS bank in Shanghai has the potential to assume a significantly more prominent role. African nations now possess another financing institution to which they can offer their projects, expanding their options beyond exclusive reliance on China Exim Bank. This situation possesses transformative potential and warrants active promotion as a significant opportunity.


What are the trends that can be observed within the economic sector of tourism between China and Africa? Are there any opportunities from the infrastructures that are being implemented and constructed to facilitate the mobility of both buildings and individuals and foster tourism between Africa and China?


The topic of tourism is worthy of consideration as it necessitates an examination of both pre-pandemic and post-pandemic periods. Prior to the onset of the pandemic, namely in the early 2000s, Africa was widely regarded as a frontier market and a sought-after destination for experienced travellers. Young Chinese individuals would be hesitant or reluctant while considering travel to the African continent, believing it to be risky and dangerous due to the prevalence of numerous negative societal stigmas. However, the dynamics underwent a notable transformation as Africa gained popularity. There was the first forum of China-Africa Cooperation in 2015, where President Xi pledged a substantial 60 billion dollars towards investment in Africa, consequently making Africa of great importance. A series of promotional events were initiated in China to highlight the benefits of travelling to Africa. These events were particularly significant for countries with well-established tourism infrastructure to promote market accessibility.


There are many countries that have consistently maintained their position as the most advanced in terms of tourism. Kenya is renowned for its safari experiences, while South Africa also offers exceptional opportunities for wildlife exploration. Egypt, on the other hand, boasts a rich historical heritage. These nations continue to benefit from their advantageous positions in terms of tourism. Additionally, Morocco is another destination that offers similar advantages. Furthermore, a common characteristic among these countries is their provision of airline services within China. Egypt Airlines offer daily flights from Cairo to China, providing a convenient travel option for Chinese tourists. Individuals have the ability to travel to Egypt at any given time due to the availability of flights. Ethiopian airlines, South Africa airlines, Kenyan airways and Moroccan airlines all have the same advantage. These countries are effectively capitalising on the advantage of possessing tourism infrastructure to accommodate the needs of Chinese tourists, thereby enabling them to derive substantial benefits.


Nevertheless, there are limitations that make Chinese tourism in Africa very difficult. In France, it is recognised that Chinese tourists exhibit distinct preferences and behaviours that differentiate them from Japanese tourists or European tourists. They possess distinct requirements. For example, the existing payment system necessitates adaptation to align with their own payment mechanism. The approach employed in selling products also has to be different.


In the past, the African Chamber in China engaged in a collaboration involving the 去哪儿 (qunar) application in China. This application served as a platform for the promotion and sale of tickets, similar to the functionalities offered by Expedia in the European market. Packages were opened for several embassies, including those of Côte d'Ivoire and Senegal. For example, a limited one-day promotion package featuring a round trip from Shanghai priced at $2,000 and spending four days in the city of Abidjan, located in Côte d'Ivoire. The magnitude of the event was substantial, as evidenced by over 600,000 clicks received within a single day, because we met the customer’s needs. People want to discover something new; nonetheless, their preference is in acquiring a pre-existing, comprehensive bundle that is meticulously arranged. Due to this observation, African governments should consider the development of tailored tourism packages for Chinese visitors, given their little familiarity with Africa. Chinese tourists desire a comprehensive and convenient package that ensures a secure travel experience and consequently has the potential to generate an additional revenue stream.

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