File photo shows an Ethiopian dressed up as the Chinese God of Wealth (R front) hands out gifts for Chinese passengers during the special event held at the Bole International Airport in Addis Ababa, capital of Ethiopia, Jan. 20, 2017.(Xinhua/Michael Tewelde)
ADDIS ABABA, Oct. 16 (Xinhua) -- Ethiopia's national carrier Ethiopian Airlines (ET) is eyeing a bigger share of the Chinese tourists' market which at more than 120 million is estimated to be the single largest tourist numbers globally.
Speaking exclusively to Xinhua on Saturday, Tewolde GebreMariam, CEO of ET, said with the air carrier having a presence in China since 1973, one of the handful foreign airlines pioneers at the time, it has been a witness to the economic transformation of the Asian giant.
"Today, China is the single largest market for Ethiopian Airlines with 5 destinations and 31 total weekly flights," he said, adding that ET has the largest market share on flights between China and Africa, employing dozens of Chinese nationals as cabin crew members in its flight to China.
Ethiopian Airlines currently flies to Beijing, Chengdu, Shanghai, Hong Kong and Guangzhou. It has also announced plans to start flights at an unspecified date to Shenzhen dubbed the "Silicon Valley" of China for its tech-savvy entrepreneurial nature.
Despite China being a large source of tourists to the world, the East African country received a relatively smaller proportion of Chinese tourists numbering 41,660 in 2015, up from 35,383 in 2012.
File photo shows a Chinese lady poses for pictures with bowls during a welcoming reception organized by the Ethiopian Airlines at Bole International Airport in Addis Ababa, capital of Ethiopia, Jan. 25, 2016. (Xinhua/Michael Tewelde)
Although the number of Chinese tourist to Ethiopia was smaller than that of American and British tourists, the two largest groups of tourists received by Ethiopia, Chinese tourists tend to stay longer and spend more, making it even more urgent to attract them, according to the Ethiopian government.
Ethiopia had earned 3.32 billion U.S. dollars from 886,897 tourists that visited the East African nation during the Ethiopian Fiscal Year 2016/17, that ended July 8th.
The country plans to earn 4.5 billion dollars from 1.2 million tourists during the 2017/18 Fiscal Year, that started July 9th.
GebreMariam adds that ET's most recent flight destination Chengdu, capital city of Sichuan province which has 120 million people in total and its proximity to the metropolis of Chongqing city, makes it a lucrative market to attract Chinese tourists and businesspeople.
"We expect China-Africa and China-Ethiopia ties to grow very fast with trade, investment and tourism development, and ET's China plan is in a way positioning ourselves for the future," said Gebremariam.
"We have Chinese meals on our flights to China and we have Chinese websites, we're present on social media network Wechat, and here in Addis we're building a five-star hotel which, when completed, will have the largest Chinese restaurant in Africa, helping attract even more Chinese tourists," he added.
The ubiquitous Chinese language signs visitors and passengers see when they enter Addis Ababa Bole International Airport seem to indicate the planning is well underway.
File photo shows passengers make dumplings during the welcoming reception organized by the Ethiopian Airlines at Bole International Airport in Addis Ababa, capital of Ethiopia, Jan. 25, 2016. The event took place on Monday as passengers from different African countries were traveling to China for the Chinese New Year. (Xinhua/Michael Tewelde)
There is also Chinese help desk with Chinese customer service agents serving Chinese customers in their language with the objective of promoting Addis Ababa airport as the most Chinese friendly airport in the region.
However, Ethiopia isn't just looking at Chinese tourists, but aims to have strategic cooperation with China on the aviation sector as it works to be an African aviation hub, Ahmed Shide, minister of Ethiopia's Ministry of Transport, told Xinhua in July.
"We plan to make Addis Ababa a strategic aviation hub between China and Africa," said Shide, adding that with China working on being an airplane manufacturing center, he expects Ethiopia to be a customer of fully developed Chinese airplanes in the future.
Ethiopian Airlines currently buys most of its airplanes from the U.S. airplane manufacturer Boeing and the European Airplane manufacturer Airbus.