The UK Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, Rt Hon Sajid Javid MP, has welcomed news that Birmingham Airport will host a programme of charter flights from Beijing this summer, carrying almost four thousand Chinese tourists into the UK on package tours and contributing £19 million to the regional economy.
The SoS was speaking at a special event hosted by Birmingham Airport and Visit Britain at The GREAT Festival in Shanghai. The event was also attended by President Chen Xiaobing of Caissa Touristic and Vice President Hou Wei of Hainan Airlines as well as senior representatives from Birmingham’s business community, media and HNA Group of which Caissa Touristic and Hainan Airlines are a part of.
The GREAT Festival in Shanghai is being led by the Duke of Cambridge Prince William, Trade Minister Lord Livingston and the Culture Secretary.
Rt Hon Sajid Javid MP said: “There's so much more to the UK than London, so it's great that this new route will let Chinese visitors fly direct to the heart of England this summer. Improving international connections is a key part of our long-term economic plan, and a regular flight between China's capital and Britain's second city will boost the tourist industry and help forge links between businesses in both countries."
Hainan Airlines will operate twice weekly flights on a Boeing 767-300 aircraft, with 233 seats – 34 in the business cabin and 199 in economy. The flights will operate from Beijing to Birmingham each Friday and Monday, starting on Friday 3rd July and ending on the Friday 28th August.
Jo Lloyd, Birmingham Airport’s Commercial Director, who spoke at today’s event, said: “We are honoured to be able to once again host the UK’s only direct charter flights from Beijing this summer and look forward to welcoming the thousands of Chinese passengers arriving twice weekly into the Midlands during the summer.
“Not only is this a significant market test, it paves the way for future sustainable scheduled flights into Birmingham from China that will support the growth in Chinese visitors as well as the region’s economy. We are also hopeful that flight programmes will include departures from Shanghai and Guangzhou as well as Beijing to Birmingham in the future.
“We would like to thank our travel partners, Caissa Touristic, Hainan Airlines and United Travel, for recognising Birmingham as a great entry point into the UK and we look forward to a long and successful partnership going forward. Thanks also go out to our many UK partners that have supported our campaign to secure flights again this year, and to the Secretary of State, UKTI and Visit Britain for making today’s event such an important occasion.”
Recent Office for National Statistics data shows that overseas visitor numbers to the region have increased by one-third, specifically from China where visitor numbers have more than doubled.
Sir Albert Bore, Leader of Birmingham City Council, said: “Chinese tourists spend eight times more in the West Midlands than the average overseas visitor – some £57 million each year. The arrival of new flights from Beijing this summer provides the region with a considerable opportunity to grow this even further.
“Birmingham is establishing itself as a must-see destination for tourists across the world. The Rough Guides has ranked the city as one of the top ten global locations to visit in 2015, with new attractions such as Resorts World Birmingham opening this year. Our retail offer, supported by the £50 million transformation of the Mailbox, will be unrivalled outside London. We are attracting more international visitors than ever before – and with new flights from China, this trend is set to continue.”
Birmingham Airport also unveiled its new Chinese branding – ‘Birmingham Airport, Shakespeare’s Airport’ at the event. It will be used in China to promote Birmingham as a gateway into the region which is home to many great places of interest to Chinese visitors, such as Stratford upon Avon, the home of Shakespeare.
Sally Balcombe, CEO at VisitBritain said: “These new charter flights will help us achieve our target of £1 billion Chinese visitor spend within five years – that’s over double the current annual level.
“China is a huge tourism opportunity for Britain. Our current share is small in volume but high in value. Chinese visitors already stay longer here than in our European competitor destinations and are high spenders – every 22 additional Chinese visitors we attract supports an additional job in tourism.
“Having direct access to Birmingham will not only increase tourism to the local area, but importantly, across the nations and regions of Britain – something VisitBritain leads on.”
Also present at the launch event in Shanghai were representatives from the Birmingham business community including Aston Villa Football Club, Shanghai Automotive, Wragg & Co, Birmingham University and NVC Lighting.
Chen Xiaobing, President of Caissa, said: “Birmingham is an important destination for Caissa Touristic due to its central location and the many tourist attractions which are of great interest to Chinese people. The 2014 charter flight programme between Beijing and Birmingham was a great success and hosting the programme once again this summer shows the strong partnership between Caissa and Birmingham Airport so we are looking forward to running the tours again this year.”
The GREAT Festival is taking place between the 2nd and 5th March in China to showcase the best of British creativity that can help businesses innovate and grow.
Former Aston Villa football player and Club ambassador, Ian Taylor, said: “Along with other businesses across the region, we support Birmingham Airport as an alternative gateway into the UK. Aston Villa has seen a huge growth in our Asian fan base in the last 12 months, primarily through our tailored Chinese social media and the Premier League’s huge broadcast reach. It’s great that these fans will now have a direct route into the city to watch their favorite football team. Aston Villa is delighted to support this initiative by joining Birmingham Airport in Shanghai and being part of such a historic occasion.”
Direct flights to China from Birmingham have been made possible thanks to an investment by Birmingham Airport to extend its runway to enable longer haul flights. The development was opened in April 2014 by the Prime Minister and was inaugurated by the first Birmingham-Beijing charter service in July 2014.
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