According to studies by Morgan Stanley Research, more countries now have direct flights to and from China; they are adjusting visa procedures in favour of Chinese nationals, and the online visa application process has been improved for Chinese visitors.
Why? Fact: China is now the number one global source of tourism, and everybody wants a piece of that pie.
Last year, Chinese tourists made 130 million trips abroad and spent $115.29 billion. In addition to their favourite destinations in Asia, they are also flying and sailing to Europe.
In the first four months of this year, Chinese arrivals in Europe were up 9.5 per cent.
Chinese tourist dollars
Even the world’s most powerful economy, the United States, is eyeing tourist dollars from China.
In 2016, there were approximately 2.97 million visitors from China to the U.S. The US travel exports to China were valued at $33 billion in 2016.
In Africa, South Africa and Kenya are ahead of all as the darling of Chinese tourists.
Ghana has been making itself attractive to the Chinese for some years now, including exhibiting at tourism expos such as COTTM, Shanghai World Travel Fair and China International Travel Mart.
The Ghana Tourism Authority (GTA), with the blessing of the sector ministry, has been leading Ghanaian travel industry players, including tour operators and hoteliers in that foray.
Last August, Stanbic Bank, with the support of the Ghana Ambassador to China, Mr Edward Boateng, rolled out a Ghana-China cultural immersion programme that sent 11 children to China to experience Chinese culture.
I go Ghana, I go China
That programme was a precursor for a larger programme dubbed ‘I Go Ghana: I Go China’ which was launched at the Tang Hotel at Roman Ridge, Accra, last week.
It is an initiative of the Standard Bank, the Group of which Stanbic Bank is a part, and the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China Limited (ICBC), working in collaboration with the Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture through its implementing agency, the Ghana Tourism Authority (GTA).
‘I Go Ghana: I Go China’ leverages the global presence of the two financial institutions with deep insight about Africa for trade and tourism promotion.
By this loyalty programme, travelers to China and Ghana will enjoy discounts at various hotels, luxury game lodges, domestic flights and various other benefits to Standard Bank (Stanbic) and ICBC cardholders.
The ICBC is a Chinese multinational banking company. It is the largest bank in China, and the largest bank in the world by total assets, deposits, loans, number of customers and number of employees. It has 20 per cent stake in the Standard Bank Group.
It was the prayer of Mr Alhassan Andani, the Stanbic CEO, that the ‘I Go Ghana’ Initiative will deepen the relations between Ghana and China “by encouraging visits between our two countries to stimulate the flow of investments”.
It was a day when I heard speeches parts of which made me squirm slightly in my seat. The Chinese Ambassador in Ghana, praising Ghana for her beautiful tourist attractions, jabbed us a little with an observation about inaccessible and undeveloped attractions.
A presenter on Ghana-China tourism business also had a word about travel restrictions including visas that are hard to come by.
Next was the Ghana Ambassador to China, Mr Boateng whose thoughts came out in the form of an urgent appeal: “We should be aiming for even a miniscule percentage of the Chinese tourism pie!”
The Ghanaian Tourism Minister, Catherine Afeku’s response was two-fold:
One: a plea to Ghanaian and Chinese banks, especially Stanbic Bank and the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China Limited (ICBC), to set up a dedicated desk to handle tourism business.
Two: a plea to Chinese and Ghanaian investors: “Come, invest to help us bring our tourist attractions up to the desirable level”.
She had a third plea and it was directed at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, through the Deputy Foreign Affairs Minister who was present.
It was a plea for easing of visa requirements, especially for e-visas or visa-on-arrival.
The Chinese numbers are real. Also real, however, is the number of countries that are throwing themselves down in front of China’s door, making themselves very attractive.
From the grapevine, I hear that the Ministry of Tourism and GTA, with the assistance of a private sector operator will soon be approaching the Ministries of Foreign Affairs and the Attorney General’s Office to work out a roll-out plan for an Approved Destination Status to be signed between Ghana and China.
This document will regulate the traffic, assuring us of a specific number of Chinese tourists a year.
The technical presenter at the launch ceremony offered some tit-bits about what to do to attract the Chinese and what to offer them when they are here.
The choice is ours. From where I sat, I eyed Akwasi Agyemang, of GTA. I thought I had never seen a more determined CEO.
In the meantime, however, a big vote of thanks to Stanbic Bank. This initiative is the mark of a bank with patriotism emblazoned in its DNA, and showing in its logos, emblems, philosophies and the bottom-line.
• The writer is a journalist with expertise in Arts, Entertainment and Tourism sectors