Tourism: Chinese to dominate Travel to Africa in the Trump Era

The village of Kallstadt, the ancestral home of the Trump family, is located in the Palatine region in Germany, less than 20 miles away from the city of Ludwigshafen, where Helmut Kohl was born.

During his tenure as German Chancellor, Kohl engineered Germany’s reunification and played his part in bringing about the end of the Warsaw Pact, the “Eastern” camp that had developed after the end of the Second World War.

Donald Trump’s election as the 45th President of the United States, on the other hand, is perceived by most international politicians and commentators as constituting the end of the country’s role as a reliable protector of the Western world, thereby bringing the “Western” camp as the last surviving part of the post-war era, and with it the age of a bipolar or unipolar world, to an end.

The concept of a multipolar world (duoji shijie) was officially incorporated by Chinese President Jiang Zemin into the country’s foreign policy at the 14th Congress of the Communist Party of China in 1992, claiming that a fair, just and peaceful world is only possible through multiple centers of power.

Obviously such a world also allows China to play a more important global role, when at the time it seemed that the development was moving from a bipolar to a unipolar world let by the U.S. Now, 25 years later, it seems that China’s foreign policy has triumphed. It is one of several leading global forces, and given the results of the U.S. presidential election, its influence might grow even stronger.

A President Trump leads to a lot of important questions and global anxieties in many fields, but given the topic of this blog let us concentrate on this admittedly minor one: How will China’s outbound tourism develop?

Outbound tourism from China is always connected with China’s use of soft power. There are a number of examples of this, the most prominent being the One Belt One Road initiative, which supports the connection of China, Southeast and South Asia and Europe along the Land and Sea Silk Roads.

Another element is the 16+1 initiative, which brings together 16 Central and Eastern European countries and China. The leaders of the 16 countries and Premier Li Keqiang met last week in Riga (I had the honor of delivering a keynote on tourism development there) to increase trade, infrastructure and tourism development between the partners.

In Asia, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) which brings together China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzistan, the Russian Federation, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and recently also India and Pakistan, is developing from an anti-Western alliance to an economic cooperation body. Premier Li stopped over in in Bishkek (Kyrgyzstan) for the last SCO meeting to sign new cooperation agreements on his way to Riga.

Even Turkey has recently threatened to join the SCO instead of trying further to become a member of the EU.

In terms of financial instruments, the main achievement is the New Development Bank (NDB), formerly referred to as the BRICS Development Bank, comprising Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.

Tourism is always a part of the activities within these initiatives. Though the visits flow in both directions, the focus really is on Chinese outbound tourism rather than with Hungarians or Uzbeks travelling to China.

A more inward looking United States, thanks to Trump, will leave greater room for all of these initiatives to bloom and potentially allow them to grow in scope. Africa could become more involved, beyond the existing inclusion of South Africa in the BRICS group.

Further opportunities will also arise as Chinese tourists travel in greater numbers to lesser- and least-developed countries. By demonstrating the spending power of the so-called New Middle Class in China, they would serve as (soft power) ambassadors for the advantages of the so-called Beijing Consensus over the Washington Consensus in the eyes of the people of the countries they visit.

For Greater China, especially Hong Kong, there is hope that the sharp decline in Chinese arrivals could find its bottom if global geopolitical security anxieties increase further and more Chinese decide that it is safer to stay closer to home. Since the Hong Kong Dollar is still pegged to the U.S. Dollar, however, the development of exchange rates will play an important role as well. And what the Trump Administration’s policy towards Taiwan will be is anybody’s guess.

For the neighboring countries in Southeast Asia, South Korea and Japan, the same sense of anxiety prevails. It can be expected that they will follow the Philippines in creating better relations with Beijing out of necessity, which could result in higher numbers of visitors from China.

Europe is just emerging from its worst summer in living memory with regard to Chinese arrivals, with decreasing numbers in all major destinations being largely caused by the perceived threat of terrorist attacks.

The continent will have to count upon no further disturbances and the typically short memory of tourists helping to bring back more Chinese visitors to Europe. Positive initiatives such as the EU-China Year of Tourism 2018, which will present on different levels all parts of Europe as preparing for Chinese visitors, would also underline a strong message of welcome.

Canada, however, could emerge as one of the unexpected winners of the election drama. If some celebrities really do move to Canada as they had previously proclaimed, the country’s increased exposure among Chinese fans may help it step out of the shadow of its big neighbor to the south.

For the U.S. itself, assuming that its visa policy does not change, the Chinese will still visit, and potentially be increasingly on the lookout for investment opportunities if the expected bubble of government spending on the back of borrowed money becomes reality.

Many high school and university students from Germany and other European countries have already declared that they no longer wish to travel to the U.S. to study, but this attitude will probably not be shared by their Chinese counterparts, who still count on the prestige coming with an Ivy League degree.

The biggest blow to U.S. arrival numbers could come from another direction: About half of all Chinese trips to America are made to California. If the potential Spring 2019 CALexit referendum were to be successful, the Republic of California would not only be the 6th biggest economy in the world in terms of GDP, but also among the top western destinations for Chinese visitors, with a proportional decrease in the arrival numbers for the rest of the U.S.

“May you live in interesting times” is supposed to be an ancient Chinese curse. Let’s wait and see if that is true.




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