By Laiyin Yuan
Translator: Laiyin Yuan
Published on: 10/05/2014
Source: People’s Daily Online
Original text (in Chinese): http://world.people.com.cn/n/2014/1006/c1002-25780376.html
The Ebola outbreak is not only causing tremendous economic losses to West African countries, but also unfortunately damaging the overall security and development of the entire continent. For many Chinese, Africa may be far away, but the danger of Ebola is ever-present. Even though there is no confirmed case of the disease in China, Chinese policymakers are staying vigilant.
The National Day holiday in the first week of October is the peak time for Chinese traveling overseas with their families. Although it is not the best season to go to Africa, many Chinese are still willing to experience the wild African savanna after their previous journeys to Asian and European countries. Thus South Africa, the transportation hub located in southern Africa, has becomes the foothold for many Chinese tour groups.
The two “Golden Week” holidays of the National Day and the Spring Festival are so famous internationally that even South African petty traders will prepare for this period each year and wait for Chinese tour groups to come, although most of them are not very familiar with this faraway Asian country. They promote new handcrafts and souvenirs to the Chinese visitors with some simple Chinese greetings and “made-in-China” calculators. However, during this National Day holiday, the traders complained to our reporter when they were interviewed near famous attractions such as the presidential palace of South Africa’s administrative capital Pretoria, and the Nelson Mandela Square in the commercial capital Johannesburg. “Chinese tourists are our major customers every year. They are more generous than Europeans. But this year only a few came because of Ebola. We can barely sell our products.”
According to Mr. Lu, who has run a travel agency in South Africa for a long time, many popular African travel routes, such as the East African Savannah and Cape Town, suffered from fewer tourists due to Ebola and other negative factors. A conservative estimate of the total tourist decline is 50%. As one of the major sources of tourists to Africa, Shanghai’s Tourism Administration Department declared that there was a significant decrease in African travel during the first eight months of this year. By the end of August, only 4,000 Shanghai tourists traveled in South Africa, Tanzania and Kenya. Although summer had already passed, which is the prime tourism season, that number was 7,800 last year. In order to offset the negative impact of Ebola, travel agencies need to design routes and prices that are more attractive to tourists.
Although East Africa and Southern Africa are 5,000 kilometers away from West Africa, where the ongoing Ebola outbreak is still occurring, many Chinese consider all regions of Africa as basically the same. Consequently, people from big cities such as Shanghai and Beijing turned their attention back to more secure places, such as the United States, Europe, and East Asia.
Ms. Chen, a tourist from Beijing, told our reporter on Mandela Square that her friends were worried about her traveling in South Africa, despite her repeated protests that she has never seen news about Ebola in South Africa, and the safety assurances of the travel agency. At the same time, she expressed that beautiful scenery and unforgettable experiences in South Africa left her with a deep impression, though she does have lingering worries.An unfortunate incident happened on October 1st when a 20-person Chinese tour group had a serious car accident in South Africa leaving four dead and several injured. In order to raise the awareness of Chinese tourists and recover from the potential losses of the tourism industry, South African Tourism Minister Derek Hanekom released a statement on October 3 to express his deep condolences and sympathy to the families and friends of the victims. He said that China is South Africa’s fourth largest long-haul tourist market and also an important political, economic, and trading partner. “We are truly saddened by this tragic incident. On behalf of the government and people of South Africa, I would like to extend our sincere condolences and sympathy to the families and friends of those who have passed on. Our prayers are also with those injured and recuperating in hospital. We wish them a speedy recovery.” Our reporter learned that currently the South African government is working closely with the Chinese Embassy. The injured have received proper treatment, and the relatives of the victims have already arrived in Johannesburg.
During interview, our reporter accidentally found a travel agency specialized in organizing “homecoming trips” to China. Its major clients are overseas Chinese who have been living in other countries for many years. Wang Jinigwen, the general manager of its South African office, told our reporter that China’s growing prosperity and favorable policies means overseas Chinese are gradually becoming interested in visiting their mother country. Although there are countless people traveling domestically during the National Day holiday, many overseas tourists are still willing to come back home and celebrate the birthday of their mother country.
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