Ethiopian Airlines will start helping Chinese visitors process visas to travel across Africa.
Beginning in 2019, Africa’s No.1 airline will set up a hub that will allow travelers from China to apply for visas to 35 African countries, the airline’s chief Tewolde Gebremariam told Chinese news agency Xinhua.
The scheme is aimed at reducing the process of application especially for citizens who have to travel to embassies located in the capital, Beijing. Chinese passport holders can get visas on arrival in Ethiopia’s capital Addis Ababa. “The visa scheme will facilitate easier air travel for Chinese experts and business people and reduces their financial cost,” Tewolde said, adding that “we are very excited about it.”
As Africa’s dominant carrier, Ethiopian Airlines has in recent years taken up a pan-African strategy, launching more connections, reviving defunct national airlines, and setting up more hubs across Africa.
Part of this growth has included servicing both cargo and passenger flights to five destinations within China namely Beijing, Chengdu, Guangzhou, Shanghai, and Hong Kong. To tap into the growing number of Chinese traveling abroad, the airline in September started accepting payments in its mobile app via the Alibaba-owned payment platform Alipay.
The establishment of a visa center is likely also a tactical gambit, placing the state carrier at the heart of efforts to ease movement across the continent. In November, Ethiopia started a visa-on-arrival push for all African travelers as more African nations liberalized their visa regimes to attract more trade and tourists. The plan is also beneficial for Ethiopian especially since its hub in Addis Ababa has now overtaken Dubai as the world’s gateway into Africa.
The visa hub is also symptomatic of China’s deepening place in Africa. Besides coming to work and trade, Chinese tourists are showing increased interest in the continent’s cultural and historical sites. Cognizant of this, countries including Kenya, Morocco, and Tunisia have eased their visa rules or launched marketing campaigns to incentivize and attract more Chinese travelers. South Africa has even gone as far as issuing business travelers five to ten-year, multiple-entry visas on arrival.
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