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Chinese tourists a viable option for Barbados
By Yajaira Archibald
TOURISM has been identified as a priority area for co-operation between China and the Caribbean, but the region may have to wait a while before seeing tourists arriving en masse from that Asian market. Nonetheless, with China’s population standing at 1.6 billion people, Barbados is still expecting a boost to its tourist sector by promoting itself to Chinese travellers as a desirable destination.
Deputy Director-General of the Department of American and Oceanic Affairs in China’s Ministry of Commerce, Xu Yingzhen, recently suggested that it may take some time for Chinese tourism to the Caribbean to really take off.
“As far as I know, since China is still a developing country, per capita GDP and per capita income are not very high. In outbound tourism we have achieved much progress, but much of that outbound tourism is concentrated in neighbouring countries,” she explained, via an interpreter.
She was at the time responding to a question from the Barbados Advocate on the status of promised tourism co-operation between China and CARICOM countries at a press conference on Wednesday April 28 at the Ministry’s Beijing offices.
Xu’s statement was confirmed by figures from the China National Tourism Administration, which ranked the top ten destinations for Chinese tourists as Hong Kong, Macao, South Korea, Japan, Vietnam, Russia, Singapore, Australia, the US and Malaysia. The statistics also showed that outbound tourism for January and February 2009 was up 5.53 per cent to 7.9 million travellers over the same period in the previous year.
However, according to a Barbados Tourism Authority official, this does not necessarily mean that Barbados will have to wait on a more even distribution of wealth in China before it sees an increase in arrivals from that Asian country. Bernard Phillips, National Co-ordinator of the local planning committee for the Barbados World Expo exhibit, clarified that Barbados’ strategy is to target China’s more well-off travellers.
His comments came three days after Xu’s press conference in an interview with this newspaper on the opening day of the World Expo in Shanghai.
He further pointed out that even the smallest percentage of the massive Chinese population would be a boost to the Barbadian tourism sector. He indicated that though Barbados may seem far away from China, direct connections through major cities such as London and New York make it quite accessible to the affluent Chinese traveller. Furthermore, with the US being a popular destination for the Chinese, he suggested promoting Barbados as an additional stop, inviting tourists to come down to the island for a few days as part of their vacation in the West. Referring to the popularity of cruises among Chinese travellers, he also mentioned marketing the option of home porting in Barbados.
Indeed, Xu Yingzhen had acknowledged that there was some measure of tourism travel from China to the Caribbean and assured that the region’s markets were still being explored. She also expressed confidence that as personal income increases, there will be growth in the number of Chinese setting their sights on Caribbean countries as a tourist destination.
In the meantime, the groundwork is being laid to boost Chinese tourist arrivals to Barbados. Xu stressed that tourism co-operation was a top priority in China-CARICOM dialogue, recalling that all Caribbean countries that have established diplomatic relations with China have been listed as approved tourism destinations for Chinese citizens.
Barbados does in fact enjoy Approved Destination Status, which means that Barbadian tour companies can promote and market Barbados as a tourism destination to Chinese tour operators, who in turn can organise and advertise tours to the island.
In 2005 a Memorandum of Understanding was signed between the National Tourism Administration of the People’s Republic of China and the Ministry of Tourism of Barbados on the Facilitation of Group Travel by Chinese Tourists to Barbados.
Meanwhile, at the second China-CARICOM Trade and Economic Co-operation Forum held in Xiamen, China in 2007, the then Chinese Vice Premier Wu Yi pledged that they would be looking to implement tourism agreements to encourage more Chinese citizens to visit Caribbean countries.