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Direct flights help inland tourism fly high

By Wang Wen | China Daily | Updated: 2013-09-17 13:32

 Direct flights help inland tourism fly high

Cycling on the ancient city wall of Xi'an, Shaanxi province, remains an attraction to foreign tourists. Li Yibo / Xinhua

Tourism in some Chinese inland cities is seeing a boost as more nonstop international routes to the cities have opened up.

Cities such as Xi'an, Chengdu and Wuhan have been added to some airlines' international route networks for their rich tourism resources.

On Sept 3, Qatar Airways, one of the main airlines in the Middle East, launched its Chengdu-Doha route, the third international route in Chengdu added this year.

Chengdu's tourism resources, especially its panda facility, which attracts foreign tourists, is one reason the carrier opened the new route, said Akbar Al Baker, CEO of Qatar Airways.

Domestic airlines have also made efforts to connect the city to international routes.

Earlier this year, Air China opened a route from Chengdu to Frankfurt, and Sichuan Airlines opened a route from Chengdu to Melbourne.

"Chengdu will add three new international routes every year according to the local government's plan," said Chen Zhongwei, director of the Chengdu transport and logistics bureau.

Moscow and San Francisco may be the next cities to connect to Chengdu in the next year, he added.

Shaanxi province's Xi'an, a 3,000-year old city, which was the country's capital for 13 dynasties, also expects more travelers from Europe since Finnair opened a Helsinki-Xi'an route in June.

The new route is the first nonstop route connecting Europe to Xi'an, which before the route's opening, only had 10 direct routes to Asian cities.

Traffic used to be an issue limiting the city's tourism industry as Xi'an ranked 18th on a list of Chinese cities welcoming inbound tourism in 2011, said Kang Lifeng, deputy director of the Xi'an tourism administration.

Kang said the route to Europe will change the situation and bring more travelers to the city.

Europe has been a main source of inbound tourism for Xi'an for years. European countries, such as Germany, France and the UK, are the city's most important inbound tourism markets, according to the administration.

September and October are usually the peak season for European travelers to visit China, and the new route makes travel to Xi'an this year more convenient.

On the other side, the international routes also provide Chinese travelers with more options abroad.

Air France-KLM launched the first route from Wuhan to Europe in 2012, and its Chengdu-Amsterdam route has been in operation since 2006.

"Almost 50 percent of our passengers are Chinese now," said Bas Gerressen, the company's general manager for China.

He said the percentage is expected to keep rising as Chinese outbound tourism grew fast.

China is already the largest outbound tourism source country in the world with 83.18 million persons traveled in 2012, up 18.41 percent from the previous year, according to the China Tourism Academy.

Increased demand for outbound tourism in China's smaller cities encouraged airlines to open more international routes to connect them.

In Sichuan province, 321,000 residents traveled overseas in the first half of 2013, with a 34.1 percent year-on-year rise, according to a local tourism authority.

The traveling demands of residents from Xi'an and western China is a reason Finnair set the city as the carrier's fifth destination in China, said Pekka Vauramo, Finnair CEO.

Some travel agencies in Xi'an also enjoyed increased business during the summer vacation for the Helsinki-Xi'an route.

The number of travelers from Xi'an to Europe increased 25 to 30 percent year-on-year, during the one month after the nonstop route opened in June, some local travel agencies said.

Some international routes from the inland cities have only just opened and cannot meet every outbound travel demand.

To help with the issue, some airlines run charter flights to tourist destinations that do not have direct flights from China during the peak season.

"The consumers welcome the charter flights very much because they can save time and are more convenient," said Chen Fang, a manager at Utour International Travel Service.


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