Why airlines are eager to connect Europe with mainland China

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2018 is the EU-China Tourism Year (ECTY), an agreement that was reached by the President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, and the Chinese Prime Minister, Li Keqiang at the 2017 EU China summit. Some of the objectives are to promote lesser-known destinations, to improve travel and tourism experiences, to provide opportunities to increase economic cooperation and to create an incentive to make quick progress on EU-China visa facilitation and air connectivity.

Last month Valeria Croce, an analyst specialised in international tourism, released a document for the European Commission on the Chinese outbound travel market. In 2015, 12 million tourists from mainland China visited a destination in Europe. These volumes tend to increase by 7 percent every year.

Finnair proudly announced the cooperation as being a selected airline partner to the EU – China Tourism Year 2018. Finnair will add a seventh city in Greater China to its network in May 2018, with a direct year-round route to Nanjing. Finnair also operates flights to Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Guangzhou, Xian and Chongqing. “A strength of Finnair in the Chinese market is our long history of flights to China as well as the network of Finnair covering seven cities,” says Mikko Turtiainen, Vice President for Global Sales at Finnair.

In addition to projects like the 2018 EU-China Tourism Year, other airlines are also jumping on the EU-China market: Hainan Airlines recently announced to launch of flights between Shenzhen and Brussels from Summer 2018, supplementing the existing connections between Belgium and both Beijing and Shanghai. The document only confirms why Hainan Airlines covers for the high demand: “The major urban centres of Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Shenzhen account for most of the outbound travel demand among Chinese, but demand from smaller cities and towns is also growing fast.

VLM Airlines recently launched a vacancy for Airbus A330 pilots, clearly making known their intentions: launching an ambitious long-haul network. Based on a schedule from last year,  Brussels would see flights to Tehran,  Bangkok,  Nanchang and Hong Kong. Ostend might have flights to Xi’an,  Nanjing, Astana, Seoul, Dalian and Tokyo Narita. And another series of long-haul flights would take off from Maribor to a variety of Asian airports.

Not only VLM Airlines will enter the Chinese market: in a tweet from 29 December 2017, Air Belgium CEO Niky Terzakis teased his followers by announcing four future Air Belgium destinations in China.

Not later than last year, Liège Airport was connected with eight Chinese cities: Wuhan, Xi’an, Shenyang, Changsha, Taiyuan, Zhengzhou, Qingdao and Fuzhou. But on September 2017, the operating airline VIM Airlines went into receivership.

Featured image © Edwin Vanoverschelde

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