Ties spur S. America tour for airlines

Updated: 2014-07-28 05:53

By WANG CHAO in Beijing (China Daily Latin America)

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South America is becoming a major destination spot for airlines and travel agencies as China-South American relations increase to a higher level, travel industry veterans say.

From January to June, the number of outbound tourists from China totaled 54 million, an increase of 18.7 percent over last year, according to a recently released report by the China Tourism Academy. And trips to South America are among the fastest growing.

Now travel to South America from China is more of a privilege for the rich who can afford the time and money.

A trip from Beijing to Sao Paulo can last 28 hours if done via Frankfurt, the fastest current airline route to South America.

Travelers usually visit several countries at one time - normally Brazil, Argentina and Peru -and go to multiple cities within each country. A one-way economy-class ticket for such a journey costs 20,000 yuan ($3,230) in off-peak seasons, and can double or triple during the yearend when the famous Brazilian carnival approaches.

David Wang, Latam Airlines’s sales and marketing director in China, said two kinds of people go to South America - the rich purely for leisure, and businessmen looking for opportunities.

The wealthy generally choose high-end, customized trips from travel agencies, he said.

Businessmen who go there are mostly involved in trade, resources or machinery. "Many go there for exhibitions, and these groups may book hundreds of tickets at one time," Wang said.

Latam Airlines is one of the largest carriers in the world in terms of network connections, and Latam is the new name for LAN Airlines as a result of its merger with TAM SA at the end of 2012.

Latam now includes LAN Airlines and its affiliates in Peru, Argentina, Colombia and Ecuador, and LAN Cargo and its affiliates, as well as TAM and its subsidiaries.

It provides passenger transport services to 135 destinations in 22 countries and cargo services to 169 destinations in 27 countries, with a fleet of 310 aircraft.

In the past two years, the number of people traveling to South America has surged, Wang said.

From July 2013 to June 2014, Latam China sold 98 million yuan worth of tickets from China to South America, while the figure was 33 million yuan during the same period two years ago.

Latam started flying China routes several years ago, and now shares reservation code with AirChina.

"Unlike the European routes which are already mature, the South American routes have just started burgeoning," Wang said. "If you consider that many countries such as Brazil have just become an official tourism destination of China since 2004, the growth is amazing."

Big events such as the World Cup can definitely accelerate the development of business, Wang said. "For example, after the South Africa World Cup in 2010, South Africa Airlines launched a direct route connecting Beijing and Johannesburg."

"President Xi Jinping’s visit to South America will, I bet, bring about various trade and business agreements, which can also boost the airline’s business," he added.

Wang said it is possible that Latam will open a direct route from China to South America, "but we need big airplanes and enough travelers."

To attract more Chinese travelers, Lantam has sponsored the Brazil Year in China, which includes events such as film and Brazilian food festivals.

Yang said travel business from China to South America has great potential, noting that so far this year only 20 percent of Latam’s trips from China were to Latin America.

"Last year, 170,000 trips were paid to Latin America, about one-tenth of the trips to Africa, so there is still big room to improve," he said.

Apart from the long distance and lack of direct flights, there are other reasons for the low number of trips to South America from China, Yang said.

"The promotion is much weaker than African countries. For example, after CCTV broadcast the migration of wild animals in Kenya, trips to Kenya surged," he said.

Yang said another reason is that to Chinese customers, tourism sites in South American countries look similar - mostly beaches - which can be easily found in closer countries such as Malaysia and Thailand.

South American countries "should try to convey more messages about their country to the Chinese people, so they are more appealing to the potential tourists," he said.

Nevertheless, Yang said he is very optimistic about the China-South America travel business. "Now it is just time to cultivate the market and educate potential customers," he said.

He suggested that airlines consider direct routes connecting China and South America to seize the initiative before the market grows too competitive.

"They might run a deficit for one to two years, but they will get a bigger piece of the market cake when it really booms," Yang said.