China's focus in Africa has been entirely on development and trade links, but Zimbabwe's move signals at least a small acknowledgment that countries could also appeal to millions of Chinese leisure travelers.
Zimbabwe has agreed to set up a new visa application system specifically for the Chinese market as the country moves into top gear to tap into the 70 million outbound Chinese tourist market.
Ever since Zimbabwe launched the Look East Policy about a decade ago, visa application in the vast country has been centralised to the Zimbabwean Embassy in Beijing, forcing all tourists intending to travel to Zimbabwe to fly to Beijing.
The Principal Director of the Department of Immigration Mr Clemence Masango told exhibitors at the China International Travel Mart, in Shanghai, China that he was responding to complaints from Chinese tourists.
“We will be introducing a new visa management system where Chinese visa applicants can apply on-line. While applicants have had to travel to Beijing where the Embassy of the Republic of Zimbabwe is housed to apply for visas, this will be a thing of the past as this will now be done on-line thereby reducing inconveniences for the potential traveller.
“While we recorded 30,000 Chinese arrivals in 2011, this new system should see a marked increase in arrivals from 2013 onwards.
“We have already tried and tested the system with two countries so far, and it has proved to work effectively,” he said.
Zimbabwe’s tourism and hospitality industry has always reiterated the need to aggressively tap into the Chinese market as China is one of the fastest growing economies in the world and this shift in the Visa regime is expected to unlock the potential.
Zimbabwe Tourism Authority chief executive Mr Karikoga Kaseke welcomed the development.
“Our vision for the Chinese market is 50,000 arrivals by 2015. Timeous and hassle-free issuance of Visas will see us realising this vision as it will complement our marketing efforts,” said Mr Kaseke.
The latest development comes at a time when the tourism and hospitality industry in Zimbabwe has intensified efforts to keep a big presence in China, where 70 million tourists leave for other countries annually.
Secretary for Tourism and Hospitality Industry, Ms Margret Sangarwe said: “China is a massive country with over 70 million outbound tourists which need to be aggressively tapped into for Zimbabwe to gain a substantial market share.
“Currently very little is known in this market yet there is so much for Chinese tourists to explore in both our natural resources and investment opportunities” she said.
“China is known as Zimbabwe’s all weather friend in Asia and these bilateral relations which date back to the liberation struggle of Zimbabwe need to be nurtured for mutual benefit of the two countries and tourism can be the gateway to achieve this. There is need therefore for us to make consented efforts to assert ourselves in the market as serious players are ready to attract and receive Chinese tourists,” she said.