Navigating a new growth course

Updated: 2013-04-18 10:30

By He Wei (China Daily)

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According to Ma, the policy, together with the fast integration of the Yangtze River Delta region, will combine to help the Shanghai-based carrier cement its reputation as a major international airline.

Therefore, it is vital for China Eastern to develop more regional tourism products, order more medium- and long-range aircraft, and broaden its overseas sales network to attract more foreign passengers, he said.

Yet another option for the future is to give Shanghai's stereotype as a business-only destination a makeover into a place for leisure travel, he said.

In 2012, more than 1.59 million transfer passengers traveled through Pudong Airport, up 17 percent from a year earlier, according to the company's website. International transit accounted for 88.4 percent of all the transfers, it said. "The high transition rate used to be a largely neglected figure. But we need to revitalize all transfer passengers and bring the visa-free policy into full play," he said.

He cited the example of Hong Kong, whose international airport boasts an annual 2.7 million transit passengers who spend HK$5,000 ($645) on average during their stay. That will effectively stimulate the local economy and boost the city's status as an international hub, Ma said.

But he noted that the scope and depth of the current policy has put a lid on the market potential. Seoul, for example, permits a visa-free stay of 30 days to six months to visitors from 107 nations.

China Eastern is also poised to operate more long-range flights. It has ordered 51 Airbus A330 jet airliners and 20 Boeing 777 airplanes recently for medium- to long-distance travel.

The carrier has also diversified its flight portfolio by embracing new destinations such as Rome, Hawaii and Maldives, and plans its first flight from Shanghai to San Francisco later this month. It has also increased the density of existing routes such as Shanghai to Paris and Shanghai to New York.

China Eastern is also overhauling its overseas sales team by recruiting more seasoned, local personnel. It is essential to cash in on first and business class fares, Ma noted.