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AfricaMoney | August 23, 2017

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China bails out Indian Ocean tourism sector

China bails out Indian Ocean tourism sector

European travellers may no longer be knocking the doors of the three African pearls in the Indian Ocean, but China is increasingly providing succour to the hospitality industries of Mauritius, Maldives and Seychelles.

The World Tourism Organisation reported that the number of Chinese travellers rose to 83 million last year, up from just 10 million in 2000. The report added that Chinese travellers spent a record $102bn on international tourism last year, becoming the largest market in the world in terms of spending after an eight-fold increase in spending over the last decade.

Chinese travellers are effectively making up for the loss of European visitors to the Indian Ocean. In Mauritius, for instance, China is already the tenth largest country by number of arrivals. Again, Maldives witnessed a China tsunami as nearly 25 percent of tourists in the archipelago last year were from the Asian superpower, according to official statistics, putting UK and Germany out of the running for the top spot.

The Caribbean has always kept the African island paradises on their toes when it comes to upmarket tourists but the 2007-08 global financial crisis has finally swung the balance in favour of the West Indian tourist haven.

However, even as a cash strapped Euro zone trims its holiday budget, the new influx of Chinese tourists has helped keep the three economies in the reckoning. Official estimates show that in 2012 alone, as many as 255,000 Chinese dropped by the Maldives, Mauritius and the Seychelles, almost double the number of visitors just two years ago, even as total tourist arrivals remained largely flat at 2.1 million.

For 2013, industry executives are estimating that nearly 300,000 Chinese holidaymakers can be expected to home in on the three islands. In 2007, before the global financial crisis, Mauritius, Maldives and Seychelles received less than 40,000 Chinese tourists. And, with tourism contributing between a tenth to a third of the three island’s respective economies, keeping Chinese tourists coming is essential for powering growth.

However, the tourism industry is still not completely out of the woods as industry experts rue that the new tourists lag behind European travellers in terms of both average duration of stay and overall spend. Chinese tourists spend just four to five days in the islands, against eight days for the French, and 12 days for the British. Industry insiders attribute part of the travel costs to the long distance of the three islands from major European cities, with air travel of over ten hours eating up a large slice of the holiday package.

Given the distance barriers, it was not just the economic crisis but also high crude prices which were impacting travel to the African island trio even before recession kicked in. So, fortuitously for the Indian Ocean paradises, China has stepped into a significant breach in the island tourism bulwark. Opening the floodgates to Chinese tourists remains both a significant opportunity – and retaining European tourists a strategic challenge – for Mauritius, Maldives and Seychelles.

Source: Financial Times

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