Growth in trav­el­ers help­ing to boost Chi­nese air­lines

China Daily (Canada) - - FRONT PAGE -

li­jing2009@chi­nadaily.com.cn

The world’s largest out­bound travel mar­ket — China — is poised to ex­pand its air­line routes, as more Chi­nese travel abroad.

On the routes be­tween China and the United States, the growth among Chi­nese air­lines is ap­proach­ing new heights this sum­mer, as more Chi­nese are trav­el­ing to the coun­try.

Ac­cord­ing to a re­port by Syd­ney­based CAPA Cen­ter for Avi­a­tion, four ma­jor Chi­nese air­lines — Air China, China Eastern, China South­ern and Hainan — have sched­uled 2,028 weekly flights to the US dur­ing this year’s peak July 1 to Sept 20 pe­riod, com­pared with 1,853 from US air­lines.

Chi­nese car­ri­ers will over­take their US coun­ter­parts for the first time in history to of­fer more flights to and from the US.

Data from CAPA and US-based OAG show, Chi­nese air­lines will op­er­ate 9.4 per­cent more flights and of­fer 14.5 per­cent more seats than US car­ri­ers.

Just four years ago, US car­ri­ers of­fered al­most twice as many flights on US-China routes as Chi­nese coun­ter­parts, ac­cord­ing to CAPA.

In­dus­try in­sid­ers say the surge in Chi­nese visi­tors to the US is the key con­trib­u­tor to the in­crease in flights of­fered by Chi­nese air­lines on these routes.

Last year, the num­ber of Chi­nese tourists trav­el­ing abroad in­creased by 19.5 per­cent year-on-year to 109 mil­lion, and nearly 2 mil­lion Chi­nese visi­tors ar­rived in the US, up 21 per­cent on 2013, ac­cord­ing to the China Na­tional Tourism Ad­min­is­tra­tion.

With the US re­lax­ing visa rules for Chi­nese and the larger travel propen­sity of peo­ple in China’s smaller cities, which is a vast and still largely un­tapped mar­ket, the boom looks set to con­tinue. In­dus­try of­fi­cials ex­pect to record another 25- to 30-per­cent in­crease in Chi­nese trav­el­ers to the US this year, about 50 per­cent higher than pre­vi­ous growth pro­jec­tions.

As China’s sum­mer travel sea­son starts, over­lap­ping with the US high sum­mer travel sea­son, Chi­nese air­lines are ex­pand­ing more ag­gres­sively.

Hainan Air­lines launched three China-US di­rect flight ser­vices over one week in June — five weekly flights be­tween Bei­jing and San Jose in Cal­i­for­nia from June 15, three weekly flights be­tween Shang­hai and Bos­ton from June 20, and four weekly flights be­tween Shang­hai and Seat­tle from June 22.

Hainan Air­lines Vice-Pres­i­dent Hou Wei said at a CAPA con­fer­ence in April that North Amer­ica would be the big­gest op­por­tu­nity for the com­pany, which re­cently an­nounced its in­tent to pur­chase 30 787-9s, mostly for North Amer­i­can ser­vice.

In China’s sec­ond-tier cities, Chi­nese air­lines are de­vel­op­ing net­works di­rectly con­nect­ing to the US.

On June 30, China Eastern be­gan fly­ing di­rectly be­tween Nan­jing and Los An­ge­les. China South­ern al­ready car­ries pas­sen­gers be­tween the cen­tral Chi­nese city of Wuhan and San Fran­cisco.

Chang Hong, di­rec­tor of Los An­ge­les Tourism’s Bei­jing Of­fice, said: “China is a huge mar­ket. Tourism de­mands lead to the launch of flights, while the launches will like­wise help to chan­nel and boost un­tapped tourism mar­kets. We are help­ing each other for­ward.”

Data re­leased by the Civil Avi­a­tion Ad­min­is­tra­tion of China on June 24 showed that China’s in­ter­na­tional air pas­sen­ger traf­fic in­creased by 39.4 per­cent in the first five months of this year, 30 per­cent more quickly than do­mes­tic air traf­fic. A to­tal of 31.52 mil­lion pas­sen­gers took in­ter­na­tional flights with Chi­nese air­lines last year, an 18.8-per­cent in­crease over the pre­vi­ous year.

Chi Zhizhang, Air China’s vi­cepres­i­dent and gen­eral man­ager for North Amer­ica, said in the past, 80 per­cent of the air­line’s US-China sales were booked in the US. Now that has shifted to a 50-50 ra­tio. Be­yond that, Chi said he ex­pects book­ings even­tu­ally will swing in China’s fa­vor to 60 per­cent.

The ser­vices on the routes be­tween China and the US are in­creas­ingly im­por­tant for Chi­nese air­lines’ in­ter­na­tional growth. Chi called the routes “low-hang­ing fruit”.

Mou Weigang, vice-chair­man of Hainan Air­lines, said at the China Civil Avi­a­tion De­vel­op­ment Fo­rum in June that Hainan Air­lines will in­crease in­vest­ment in in­ter­na­tional flights, es­pe­cially those to North Amer­ica, and add new routes from China’s sec­ond-tier cities to North Amer­ica’s first-tier cities.

Mou was quoted by the online news provider Jiemian News as say­ing that the growth and de­vel­op­ment of the com­mer­cial avi­a­tion in­dus­try are be­cause of the new ex­tended USChina visa agree­ment signed at the APEC sum­mit in Novem­ber, which is en­cour­ag­ing an in­crease in Chi­nese busi­ness trav­el­ers and tourists to the US.

“Chi­nese busi­ness trav­el­ers and tourists are the ma­jor mar­ket sources for China’s com­mer­cial avi­a­tion in­dus­try, which is boost­ing the ac­cel­er­a­tion of our com­pany’s glob­al­iza­tion.”

It seems that in the global mar­ket, Chi­nese air­lines have many po­ten­tial ad­van­tages, the size in par­tic­u­lar. They come from a mar­ket of 1.3 bil­lion peo­ple com­pared to 300 mil­lion in the US.

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