De Lille on mission to revamp South Africa’s visa system to attract much-needed Chinese tourists

Several delegates and performers on stage

Chinese Ambassador to South Africa Chen Xiaodong hosted a prestigious Spring Festival event at Time Square, Menlyn. Picture: Supplied

Published Jan 30, 2024


Tourism Minister Patricia de Lille said her department will this week intensify efforts to attract more Chinese tourists to South Africa, in a bid to boost economic fortunes.

De Lille made the remarks at a glitzy event in Pretoria on Monday night, where Ambassador of China to South Africa, Chen Xiaodong hosted Chinese Lunar New Year celebrations, also knows as the Spring Festival, hosted in accordance with the lunar calendar.

The minister said she will be meeting Home Affairs Minister Aaron Motsoaledi and representatives from the Presidency to present a roadmap on how South Africa can woo Chinese visitors.

“My department, South African Tourism and I are focused on welcoming more Chinese visitors to South Africa. I am meeting with the minister of home affairs and the Presidency’s project management office this week to see how to improve South Africa’s visa processing and enable more Chinese visitors to travel here,” said De Lille.

Chinese Ambassador to South Africa Chen Xiaodong hosted a Spring Festival event at Time Square, Menlyn, which was attended by guests including Tourism Minister Patricia de Lille and SA Ambassador to China, Siyabonga Cwele. Picture: Supplied

China’s outbound tourism market is fast recovering to the 2019 levels when over 93 million Chinese tourists travelled abroad.

South Africa has however missed out on this boon of Chinese tourists travelling to different parts of the world in the post-Covid-19 era.

“Last year, in the first six months, over 40 million Chinese tourists travelled to other countries, yet only 28,000 travelled to South Africa,” said De Lille.

“South Africa wants to welcome thousands more tourists to our national parks, cities, townships, and small towns to experience our culture, food, nature, and more. That is why we are partnering with Chinese tech firms like, Tencent and many more,” she said.

“As we jointly seek to promote shared economic growth, development, and prosperity, not only for our people but also for our respective regions and the rest of the world, we must continue to deepen our strategic partnership through enhanced cooperation.”

On the other hand, De Lille said she looks forward to China opening its tourism office in South Africa, so that South Africans can also be encouraged to visit and experience the wonders of China.

Chinese Ambassador to South Africa Chen Xiaodong hosted a prestigious Spring Festival event at Time Square, Menlyn. Picture: Supplied

“We look forward to growing trade between China and South Africa beyond the R900 billion we saw in 2023,” she said.

China is South Africa's largest global trade partner. At the same time, South Africa is also China's biggest trading partner on the African continent.

Last year, Chinese President Xi Jinping completed his fourth State Visit to South Africa and also attended the 15th BRICS Summit in Joburg.

During Xi’s State Visit, President Cyril Ramaphosa awarded him the Order of South Africa award.

This year, the Chinese New Year falls on February 10 and massive celebrations will last up to 16 days, with only the first seven days considered a public holiday.

The year 2024 has been marked as the Year of the Dragon, according to the Chinese zodiac, which features a 12-year cycle, with each year represented by a specific animal.

De Lille conveyed South African government’s well-wishes to the Chinese.

“Your Excellency (Ambassador Chen), allow me to offer, on behalf of the government and the People of South Africa, our heartfelt congratulations to President Xi Jinping, the government and the people of China on celebrating the Year of the Wood Dragon,” said De Lille.

President of the People’s Republic of China, Xi Jinping with President Cyril Ramaphosa at the Union Building in Pretoria. File Picture: Timothy Bernard / Independent Media

“I learned the Year of the Wood Dragon traditionally represents growth, opportunity and the start of new beginnings. These qualities are especially meaningful in our Comprehensive Strategic Partnership, specifically our Tourism sector.”

The minister said she was “greatly honoured” to travel to China in November last year where she experiences three “beautiful” cities: Kunming, Beijing, and Shanghai.

“The People of China made us feel like it was our second home, from the flight attendants on China Eastern to His Excellency Mr Sun Yeli, Minister of Culture and Tourism,” she said.

“Your hospitality can only be rivalled by a warm South African welcome.”

Additionally, De Lille said South Africa “deeply appreciates” China's support in addressing its current challenges within the energy sector, and the pivotal role played by the Chinese ambassador based in Pretoria.

“Ambassador, you have made a positive impact and deepen our relationship between the two countries. I sincerely wish the government and the People of China a happy and prosperous year of the wood dragon,” she said.

The festivities in Pretoria were attended by hundreds of guests, and also addressed by South Africa’s Ambassador to China, Siyabonga Cwele.

South Africa’s Ambassador to China, Siyabonga Cwele. Picture: Supplied