As China’s massive outbound tourism market matures, many experienced Chinese travelers are thinking “been there, done that” about a typical Paris shopping spree. Instead, they’re increasingly heading to rugged locales like Africa and even Antarctica for adventurous, experience-focused travel. On the front lines of this trend is travel agency Asia to Africa Safaris, a 12-year-old company with offices in Hong Kong, Beijing, and more that arranges tailor-made trips to sub-Saharan Africa for wealthy Asian clients.
Stories about demand for exotic meats of endangered animals has dampened the reputation of rich Chinese tourists in Africa—especially last year’s infamous revelation that ousted official Bo Xilai’s son had brought back rare meat after a safari trip. A to A Safaris, however, caters to Chinese travelers interested in sustainability and wildlife conservation at a time when eco-tourism is also gaining momentum in China. In order to learn more about the demographics, preferred destinations, and interests of Chinese visitors to Africa, we checked in with A to A Safaris Managing Director Kim Nixon for an interview.
What kinds of services does your agency provide to clients?
We specialize in designing tailor-made safaris according to our clients’ personal travel preferences to the most pristine, untouched, and exciting wilderness areas on the African continent. We provide true one-stop service and take care of all arrangements in Africa from when our clients land on African soil, including all transportation and logistics: land, air, water. All accommodations: camps, lodges, hotels. All activities: game drives on vehicles, boats, walks, canoeing, ballooning, horseback riding, and cycling. Concierge service: private guides and private vehicles, private dinners and picnics, entry into hard-to-get exclusive areas, restaurant bookings, other special tours.
We have made conservation a key focus by partnering with like-minded safari camps, lodges, and guides that are committed to sustainable tourism, local community involvement and wildlife conservation. All the properties we book support the local communities, which in return allow wildlife to continue to be protected.
What are the demographics of your typical Chinese client in terms of profession, age, and gender?
Our typical Chinese client’s age [is] between 30 and 65 year old, with a 40/60 [percent] split between male and female. Roughly 60 percent of them are business professionals, and 40 percent of them are entrepreneurs.
Are safaris becoming more popular with mainland Chinese clients?
Yes, definitely. There has been a rapidly emerging interest in more adventurous and eco-tourism focused travel to high-quality, safari hotspot African countries from the Chinese market.
What are some of the most popular destinations for Chinese clients?
Kenya and Tanzania are popular destinations because of visa-on-arrival service. South Africa is also a popular choice due to the access of direct flights between Hong Kong to Johannesburg. The most surprising high interest country is Zimbabwe, where incredible value for money and high-quality wildlife experiences combined effortlessly with a range of differing activities.
Are there any differences in preferences between travelers from the mainland and those from Hong Kong?
Most of our clients are first-timers, and all first-timers would want to see a great variety of game and participate in several activities during their vacations in Africa; that’s why there’s a big difference between their preferences. We believe that we will have a clearer picture once we developed a regular Chinese client base, for instance, whether their next safari will be on the off-the-beaten track like the tracking the lowland gorillas in the Republic of Congo or if they prefer the “tried-and-tested” traditional safari circuits of South Africa and Kenya, etc.
We’ve heard a lot about Chinese travelers’ interests becoming more adventurous—have you noticed this in your experience with your own clients?
Yes, definitely. Several of our clients clamor for walking safaris, some have gone on canoeing safaris and request for sleep-outs under the stars. Mostly though, our Chinese clients seek adventurous activities while staying in comfortable accommodations–having the flexibility to choose as to when to enjoy an activity.