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China Poised For Caribbean Tourism

10 countries in region set to receive Chinese visitors


February 10, 2005
Copyright © 2005 CARIBBEAN BUSINESS. All Rights Reserved.

KINGSTON, Jamaica--Ten Caribbean countries will be receiving tour groups from China soon as the result of a significant agreement signed here during the recent China-Caribbean Economic & Trade Forum & Exposition.

The benefit, entitled "Approved Destination Status (ADS)," is important for most of the tourism-concentrated economies in the region, yet it is only being extended to those countries that have diplomatic relations with the gigantic communist country of 1.3 billion residents. In 2003, China sent an astounding 23 million tourists abroad who spent $16 billion.

Recipient countries include Antigua-Barbuda, the Bahamas, Barbados, Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, Jamaica, St. Lucia, Suriname, and Trinidad-Tobago.

Absent from the list are Belize, St. Kitts-Nevis, and St. Vincent & the Grenadines, member states of the Caribbean Community (Caricom), as well as the Dominican Republic (D.R.) and Haiti. Those countries still maintain diplomatic relations with Taiwan, which China considers a breakaway province.

Until recently, the only country in the Americas to have the coveted designation was Cuba.

The status should boost tourist arrivals in the Caribbean as booming China is forecast by the World Travel Organization to emerge as the No. 4 source of outbound travelers by 2020, when it will send 100 million people abroad.

China’s Vice President Zeng Qinghong announced the designations on the opening day of the first China-Caribbean forum, a four-day event that attracted more than 1,000 officials and executives from across the Caribbean, and more than 300 from China. More than 125 of the Chinese visitors arrived aboard a Boeing 747 of the Chinese government.

The lure of Chinese tourist groups is expected to encourage the remaining Caribbean nations to establish diplomatic relations with Beijing and break ties with China’s political rival Taiwan, just as Grenada switched sides last month (CB Jan. 27), conference delegates said.

"It’s a question of gravity pulling toward China," said Clodomiro Ortiz, a tourism official from the D.R., one of the few Caribbean nations still linked to Taiwan and one that would welcome more gambling-loving Chinese to its casinos.

Despite its ties with Taipei, the D.R. sent a 40-plus-member delegation headed by no less a personage than its foreign minister, Carlos Morales Troncoso (CB Feb. 3).

China emerges as economic dynamo

The meetings come as China matures into a global powerhouse. Its economy has averaged 9% annual growth since 1978 and is expected to quadruple its 2000 level by 2020. Some economists predict it will trail only the U.S. in a generation and top it by 2040.

Last year, China became only the third country in the world to top $1 trillion in annual trade in goods. Direct China-Caribbean trade jumped more than 35% to roughly $2 billion in 2004, Chinese government data indicates.

The small nations of the predominantly tourism-dependent Caribbean are hoping to tap the soaring market of the world’s most populated nation and, at the same time, lure more Chinese investment.

Veteran Jamaica Prime Minister P.J. Patterson joked he’d be happy to attract only "0.001%" of China’s 1.3 billion residents to his land of reggae music, beaches, and mountains. If that happened, China would gladly build hotels in Jamaica to host the influx, China’s vice president shot back, as the two leaders bantered before television cameras recording the historic occasion for audiences throughout the Caribbean as well as in faraway China.

China already is teaming up with communist-led Cuba on hotel projects. A joint venture between the two countries is now constructing a 750-room, tropical-themed hotel in Shanghai and is developing a hotel in Havana, remarked Cuban minister of Commerce Ricardo Cabrisas.

A number of regional observers believe that for the Caribbean to attract big numbers of tourists from China will take time and involve the establishment of air links between China and the Caribbean as well as expansion of hotels and resorts to accommodate such considerable growth.

The number of people China sent abroad last year (28 million) was about 40% up from 2003 (23 million) and more than the travelers Japan sent overseas. But, of that total, only about 7,000 visited the distant Caribbean with most preferring closer sites in Asia, Chinese tourism officials said.

One hurdle to business has been Beijing’s lack of the ADS, which permits Chinese tour groups to more easily obtain visas for certain countries. At the end of last year, 61 countries had the designation: 30 in Europe, 18 in Asia, 10 in Africa, two in Oceania, and only Cuba in the Americas, according to the China National Tourism Administration.

That obstacle will now dissolve as the designation is extended to 10 more Caribbean nations.

The conference and expo cap a five-nation tour by China’s vice president and a roughly 120-member delegation, which already has included stops in Mexico, Peru, Venezuela, and Trinidad-Tobago. In Trinidad, China offered 2%-a-year loans for the purchase of Chinese goods and services, plus grants for technical assistance.

China in the U.S. backyard

While some analysts have seen China’s push into the Caribbean and Latin America as encroaching into the U.S. backyard, Vice President Zheng made clear that China’s growing ties with fellow developing nations don’t preclude friendships with others.

"This forum is not targeted against any third country," Zheng told reporters, in an obvious reference to the U.S.

Chinese officials said they look forward to hosting the next forum in China next year.

This Caribbean Business article appears courtesy of Casiano Communications.
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