VICTORIA FALLS, Zimbabwe, Aug. 27 (Xinhua) -- China's top tourism official has pledged to promote African destinations against the backdrop of the country's growing middle-class travelers with a penchant for overseas tours.
Shao Qiwei, head of China's National Tourism Administration, told Xinhua in an interview on the sidelines of a global tourism meeting held at Zimbabwe's resort town of Victoria Falls that Africa's well-preserved wildlife, among other attractions, is worth a visit for any Chinese tourist who can afford it.
Official statistics show that about 1 million Chinese tourists visit Africa annually in recent years.
Last year, the country registered 83 million out-bound Chinese tourists, which outnumbered the United States and Germany, making China No. 1 in the international tourism market.
Poor accessibility of African destinations, lack of good infrastructure and shortage of finance are blamed for holding back tourism receipts from flowing into poverty-stricken African nations.
"Though the number is small, as a destination market Africa is growing very fast and we consider it worthwhile to nurture that market, even if it takes years," Shao said.
He reassured the Chinese government's commitment to engage African nations in promoting tourism and encourage more Chinese to go to Africa.
Shao said among the 27 African nations granted "tourist destination status" by the Chinese government, Kenya, South Africa and Mauritius flared best in terms of attracting Chinese tourists.
"In Kenya, an increasing number of Chinese flock there to view the annual animal migration. I heard that hotel rooms for next year's migration have been fully booked," Shao said.
The tourism chief says promotion for other African countries like Zimbabwe and Zambia which have good attractions and sound infrastructure can get a push.
The two countries were co-hosts of the UNWTO summit, the second time that the UN body holds its general assembly in sub-Saharan Africa after the 2005 summit in Senegal.
China has surpassed the United States to become the world's biggest international tourism market in terms of both the number of out-bound tourists and the money they spend on overseas trips.
Last year, more than 83 million Chinese tourists traveled out of the country, spending 102 billion U.S. dollars on their trips, according to UNWTO and Chinese official statistics.
Tourism ministers in Africa have expressed strong intentions to better tap into the Chinese market for big-spender tourists to come.
In Zimbabwe, there were only 5,000 Chinese visitors to the country in 2012, according to figures released by Zimbabwe Tourism Authority. The government agency set a target to attract 50,000 Chinese tourists annually by 2015.
Zimbabwe is home to the mighty Victoria Falls, whose view is no less spectacular than the Nicaragua Falls bordering the U. S. and Canada and the Iguazu Falls bordering Brazil and Argentina.
Shao said one of the main challenges is air accessibility.
"If there is no air link, you won't get tourists to come even you have a good source market," he said, adding that it has been a globally-acknowledged fact that aviation goes hand in hand with tourism.
Zimbabwe is overhauling its tiny Victoria Falls airport to expand its current capacity of handling only 500,000 travelers a year. The 160 million dollars project is to be completed by the end of December, according to Munodawafa Munesu, permanent secretary of the Ministry of Transport Communications and Infrastructure Development.
Long-haul flights from around the globe and particularly from China can be accommodated when the project is completed, Munesu said, adding that Zimbabwe is also working to revive its national airline Air Zimbabwe to resume its flights to China from Harare and, possibly, from Victoria Falls.