Domestic tourism works for China, can work for EAC too

It’s hard to imagine that a single country can have more people than a whole continent, yet China easily puts this marvel to rest.
These two relax in Gisenyi. The New Times/Timothy Kisambira
These two relax in Gisenyi. The New Times/Timothy Kisambira

It’s hard to imagine that a single country can have more people than a whole continent, yet China easily puts this marvel to rest.

With about 1.35bilion people, China is not only the World’s most populated country but also has population bigger than Africa’s estimated 1billion.

Economic analysts agree that China’s population has played a role in the country’s growth over the past three decades. The main hypothesis is that a big population presents cheaper labour for industries and big domestic market for products.

Those who have been to major cities such as Beijing and Shanghai’s tourist centers might have witnessed this tendency. It is amazing to see a big number of local people, from distant parts of this expansive country visiting this historical feature, as domestic tourists. Most say they visit the country’s major historical features at least once a year. 

In Shanghai I was overwhelmed by the number of Chinese who, together with foreigners, climbed the famous Pearl Tower to view the architectural beauty of China’s financial capital.

Because of this, China’s tourism doesn’t have to rely on foreign visitors like is the case in African countries. For instance, there were 2.6 billion local tourists in 2011 and only 135 foreigners. That year, revenue from inbound tourism was $48.5 billion.

Rwanda, Uganda and Kenya appreciate this game of numbers and their idea of a trilateral single tourist visa is meant to attract more visitors. While this is a good move, there should be a plan for local tourism to boost revenue.

In Rwanda for instance, while Europeans grace the beach side area around the Serena Kivu Hotel, you hardly see Africans or Rwandans. We need to arouse local interest in tourist sites.

All the five partners in the EAC can manage a mass market of about 135 million people, less than Nigeria’s 170 million.

It’s clear therefore that numbers matter in economic growth. With a big population, you can produce more and consume locally with less reliance on foreign demand. 

Yet numbers can’t always be everything.

No women

I told a Chinese friend a story of how some men in Africa marry up to five wives and he was genuinely nonplussed.

I have since learnt that one of the hardest things for Chinese young men to find is a wife, especially in rural areas. According to Prof. Liu Liqun of the Communication University of China, there’s a huge imbalance in the ratio of men to women standing at 130:100. For every 130 males, there are only 100 females.

This, I learnt, has to do with the strict population policy that requires married couples to have only one child or face heavy fines. 

“As a result, many couples want to use their single chance to have a son rather than a daughter in order to keep the family tree alive,” said Liu.

It’s common for couples to carry out ‘selective abortion’ on realising they are expecting a baby girl. 

Lee is 31 years old yet he has no near plans for marriage as he tells me it’s not only an expensive venture but also hard to find a girl willing to marry him.

The Chinese word for ‘crisis’ is ‘wei-ji’ crafted from two words, ‘danger’ and ‘opportunity.’

Business smarts have turned the wife crisis into a lucrative trade. There are agencies where wealthy men, with trouble finding marriage partners, can pay expensive fees to agents who scout for them women. It’s a million dollar industry, according to a recent BBC report.

In Lucy Ash’s article for the BBC, she cites Diamond Bachelors’ Agency, a Shanghai outfit, with hundreds of wealthy single men looking for wives on its books. Fees range from £15,000 to more than £1m ($1.6m) for a year’s subscription.

Obviously, it’s clear one has to be rich as well to marry.

“You need to save for decades to buy a house, and a well paying job to enable one buy a house is a dream, you may buy a car which is less expensive but you can’t have a family in the car,” says Wang.

Recently, the ruling Communist Party of China (CPC), concluded its Third Plenum, an important leadership meeting that discusses policy reforms.

As one of the decisions, the government has agreed to relax the family planning rules and allow couples with a minority background to have two children.

This is expected to help reduce the imbalance between males and females though it will take time.

But this is assuming that all girls born are for marriage. A modern Chinese woman wants to go to school and get a top job. Recent statistics indicate that 51 per cent of all senior managerial jobs are held by women.


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