While Paris, Milan and Hong Kong are well-known to affluent Chinese, some of them are tiring of the usual luxury enclaves.
For them, says Tianyin Shi, group head of China for Deutsche Bank’s private wealth management group, Africa awaits.
“I first went to Africa in 2011 and liked it so much that I booked the next trip for 2012 right in the airport lounge,” Ms. Shi says. She and her husband count Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Zambia among their recent trips.
Africa is still off the beaten path for most wealthy Chinese, but the continent appeals to a growing number of them, she says. South Africa is one example. It saw more than 60,000 Chinese visits in the first half of 2012, a 68% jump from the same period a year earlier, according to the South African Tourism Ministry. China has already overtaken France as the country’s fourth-largest overseas market.
These new Chinese travelers don’t sight-see in packs or while away the vacation at the mall — they are more likely to get private tours and embrace the safari opportunities, says Ms. Shi. “The scenery in Africa is so different from that of China, and in certain more remote areas, there are very few people,” she adds. “You feel like you’re away from the rest of the world, which is relaxing.”
Many of them first discover Africa during business trips. China’s direct investments in Africa jumped to $15 billion in 2011 from less than $100 million in 2003, and by 2009, China had replaced the U.S. as Africa’s largest trade and investment partner, according to China’s Ministry of Commerce. Compared with Latin America, Africa is closer to home, about 12 hours by plane from Beijing or Shanghai.
Once there, Ms. Shi says, Africa’s upscale safari camps and private jets play to Chinese tastes for luxury tourism, as does its focus on nature and scenery over historic attractions.
“We go out during sunrise and sunset to watch animals. After a few days your eyes get trained and it becomes easy to spot them,” she says. Once, she made a few seconds of eye comment with a lion as her jeep passed by — “but I wasn’t afraid at all,” she says. “It is their world. We’re just observers.”
On their first trip, Ms. Shi and her family were a rare enough sight in Africa that hoteliers told them about previous Chinese visitors. While in Namibia last year, however, she discovered that a friend was nearby — via Weixin, a Chinese social-networking app.