More direct flights to tourist destinations

Updated: 2013-11-06 11:23

By Wang Wen (China Daily)

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Chinese and foreign airlines are providing greater options for Chinese travelers by opening more direct routes from China to overseas tourist destinations.

Hawaiian Airlines Inc will launch a new route between Beijing and Honolulu next April, the carrier announced on Monday.

Hawaii's popularity with Chinese visitors is behind the 84-year-old airline's opening its first route to China, which it plans to start running before the summer travel season begins, said Mark Dunkerly, president and CEO of Hawaiian Airlines.

"Even without direct service, the number of tourists from China to Hawaii has grown rapidly," Dunkerly said.

A total of 41,900 Chinese travelers visited Hawaii in 2009. By 2012, that number more than doubled to 110,000, according to Hawaii's tourism bureau. The Hawaii Tourism Authority estimates that the number of Chinese visitors will reach 144,000 this year.

Hawaiian Airlines is interested in going to many cities in China, and its network will expand if traffic from Beijing is encouraging, Dunkerly said.

If those encouraging numbers emerge, however, the first thing the carrier will do is add more flights onto the Beijing-Honolulu route, Dunkerly added.

Initially, the airline will run three flights a week on the route.

But starting next year, it will have more competition.

Air China Ltd is launching a direct route between Beijing and Honolulu on Jan 21.

The Chinese flag carrier will run three weekly flights using Airbus 330 aircraft - the same as Hawaiian Airlines.

But Dunkerly isn't worried. He said the market is big enough for both the carriers.

There are 15 to 20 daily flights between Hawaii and Japan, and the Chinese market will be even larger, he said.

Chinese airlines also are eyeing other destinations.

Air China will open the first non-stop route between Beijing and Chiang Mai, Thailand, on Nov 7 with three flights weekly, as the city has become increasingly popular with Chinese travelers.

And China Southern Airlines Co Ltd will launch Guangzhou-Chiang Mai and Shenzhen-Phuket routes this year.

Chinese outbound travelers will log 98 million person-trips this year, and the total is expected to break 100 million by 2014, said Jiang Yiyi, director of international tourism development at the China Tourism Academy.

"It is reasonable for the airlines to open routes to tourism destinations, as outbound tourism is increasing so fast," said Li Xiaojin, a professor at China Aviation University in Tianjin.

Lacking more slots, busy hub airports have pushed the airlines to smaller destination airports, Li added.

"I'm optimistic about the carriers' business on the routes to tourist destinations," Li said, although leisure travelers are more price-sensitive than business travelers.