Cover Story

Carriers plan new routes to boost linkages

Updated: 2011-07-08 10:47

By David Bartram (China Daily European Weekly)

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As European tourists begin to explore China, airlines across both Europe and China are jostling for position for the right to serve these new customers alongside the already fast-growing number of Chinese tourists visiting Europe.

Connections between Europe and China have been improving for years; and Beijing introduced a series of new routes in the build-up to the 2008 Beijing Olympics, most of which served the capital.

But today the emphasis is connecting China to Europe's second- and third-tier cities, as well as providing better inter-city connections within China itself. Typical of this policy was the opening of an Air China direct route between Dsseldorf in Germany and Beijing in March.

As well as providing improved transport links between China and a region of Germany in which many Chinese enterprises have already invested, it is hoped that the routes will encourage a growth in German tourism to China.

There has barely been a major European airline that hasn't increased the number of flights it offers to China in recent years, but getting passengers to China is only half the challenge.

With European tourists tending to view a trip to China as a "once in a lifetime" experience, and are keen to see as much of the country as possible, this inevitably means domestic transfers.

In February, Li Jiaxiang, head of the Civil Aviation Administration of China, announced plans to build 45 new commercial airports across China over the next five years. The development of an extensive network of airports across China will appeal to tourists wishing to visit the more remote parts of the country.

"The ability of the civil aviation sector to serve the national economy and the public will be further strengthened," Li said at the time. Placing airports in relatively remote areas can create a massive upsurge in tourism. The increase in tourism in Tengchong county, Southwest China's Yunnan province, since an airport opened in 2009 has seen the county's GDP rise 56 percent.

Travelers will be further heartened to hear that China Eastern, the country's second largest carrier, has joined the SkyTeam alliance. Passengers flying on SkyTeam's other airlines - including Air France and Alitalia - will be able to book onward connections to destinations across China, and also collect frequent flyer points on China Eastern flights.

But domestic flights in China, while increasing both frequency and destinations, are not having everything their own way. Carriers are coming under pressure from the greener and often cheaper high speed rail network which has grown extensively over the last few years, and continues to do so.

The new Beijing-Shanghai high speed rail connection will particularly appeal to visitors put off not only by the cost of a connecting flight between China's two largest cities, but also the inconvenience of checking in and transfer times.

Regardless, China's airlines are expected to carry 500 million passengers by 2015, offering visitors to the country unbridled access to China's growing tourist hotspots.


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