First ever UK charter flights from China to the UK announced

The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, Maria Miller, today endorsed news that Birmingham Airport will become the country’s first gateway to offer UK charter package tours from China and the first UK airport outside of London to launch direct charter flights to China.

The joint initiative between Birmingham Airport, China Southern Airlines, Caissa Travel Management Co Ltd and Birmingham China specialist agency, United Travel, demonstrates the enormous demand for more flights between the two countries.

The Secretary of State said, “This is great news for Birmingham and Britain. China is a vital trade and tourism partner for us and opening up this new route will encourage even more Chinese visitors to fly to our country and experience more of what our GREAT nation has to offer outside of the capital - from tourist attractions to shopping, culture to heritage. The new route will provide great investment and job opportunities for businesses in Birmingham and the Midlands.”

It is now possible to fly direct between Birmingham and Beijing thanks to a £40 million investment by Birmingham Airport to extend the runway, which will open next month. The runway extension will provide airlines with unlimited take off range, allowing jets to fly direct to China, and puts Birmingham in an ideal place to become an alternative gateway to the UK for flights from China and beyond. The summer programme will involve direct flights operated by China Southern Airlines arriving from Beijing into Birmingham between July 22nd and August 6th [1]. Caissa, one of China’s leading travel specialists, will sell a range of organised package tours to Chinese visitors seeking to explore the world class tourism attractions in the Midlands, the North of England and London. China Southern Airlines will operate a 248 seat A330-200 aircraft on the route.

Paul Kehoe, Birmingham Airport’s Chief Executive, said, “Today’s announcement is a result of three years’ collaborative working with Birmingham City Council, Marketing Birmingham, VisitBritain and Shakespeare’s England [2] to establish relationships in China and promote the many jewels that the Midlands has to offer, such as The Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC), Shakespeare’s Birthplace, Warwick Castle, Bicester Village and the vibrant city of Birmingham itself. “There is an alternative gateway into the UK for those wanting to visit Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwick and Birmingham - destinations that make this country great. This partnership also demonstrates that the demand is there from passengers across the UK who want long-haul flights to places like China from their nearest gateway.”

China is currently one of the fastest growing visitor source markets for the UK tourism industry at a rate of 20% year-on-year over the past few years. The size of the market has tripled over the past decade, and it is forecast to continue to grow strongly for the remainder of the decade. In 2012 the Chinese visitor market was worth £15 million to the West Midlands economy, with Birmingham now the 4th most popular destination for Chinese visitors in England. Chen Xiaobing, CEO of Caissa Travel, said: "Birmingham is not only the UK's second largest city, but it is also an important tourist destination of Caissa's. This cooperation will welcome Chinese tourists to Britain, opening up an important gateway to further expand the Chinese European outbound travel business.

“As we know, when the British Prime Minister, David Cameron, visited China last year, he pointed out the great potential of tourism cooperation between the two countries. Earlier, the British Tourist Authority and Caissa Travel, a large integrated tour operator, signed a strategic cooperation agreement for three years to strive for and to become the largest market in recent years. This agreement is one of the largest strategic travel marketing plans in mainland China. “The two parties will make joint efforts to develop tourism projects in the UK, both in publicity and promotion, in order to further grow Chinese tourism in the UK."

A number of ‘seat only’ tickets and package holidays, flying direct, are also available for UK residents wishing to visit China. These flights and holidays will be sold exclusively through Birmingham based China specialist agent, United Travel.

Ann Leung, Director, United Travel, commented, “For many years we have been calling for direct flights between Birmingham and China to satisfy growing demand. We are constantly receiving enquiries from business travellers and tourists wishing to visit China, and students and Chinese people wanting to travel home. Birmingham needs direct flights to China and we are therefore incredibly proud to be part of this important initiative.”

Both Birmingham City Council and Marketing Birmingham have visited China numerous times over the last few years in order to develop relationships and promote the region; groundwork that has been vital in finalising this programme.

Sir Albert Bore, Leader of Birmingham City Council, said, “China is a hugely significant market for Birmingham and the West Midlands, so we look forward to the prospect of even more Chinese visitors coming to the city using this new, landmark route.
"We are working proactively to ensure that Birmingham is viewed as a key location on the itineraries of Chinese travel agents and investors – and our efforts are bearing fruit.
“While the city has recently secured groundbreaking deals from Chinese investors, research undertaken by Marketing Birmingham’s Regional Observatory also indicates that Chinese tourists are extremely positive about the city’s range of activities, connectivity and reputation. Our challenge now is to continue to offer a warm welcome to new Chinese visitors wishing to explore our popular leisure and business destination.”

The partnership forms part of the wider VisitBritain ‘GREAT China Welcome’ campaign, which was announced during the Prime Minister’s visit to China in November 2013 and aims to make the UK the most welcoming destination in Europe for Chinese visitors.

Sandie Dawe, CEO of VisitBritain, added, “Britain is attracting more Chinese travellers than ever before and our strategy for growth recognises the need to develop more airline routes and greater access across Britain. The Birmingham route will encourage Chinese visitors to explore new areas of Britain and help to achieve our target of welcoming 650,000 Chinese visits a year by 2020.”

As a founding member of the ‘GREAT China Welcome’ campaign and leading up to the start of the new flights, Birmingham Airport is investing to ensure Chinese visitors receive a warm welcome and a stress free journey through the terminal on arrival. This investment includes Chinese terminal signage, staff cultural awareness training, mandarin speaking front of house staff, specific web-pages translated into mandarin, and a dedicated VAT refund facility for passengers to use before jetting back home.

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