North reaps benefits of direct flights to China

The north of England has seen a 38% increase in visitors from China since the launch of direct flights between Manchester Airport and Beijing in 2016, writes Angie Cronin.

Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham revealed the findings of the China Dividend: Two Years In report at the British embassy in Beijing this morning (September 17).

The report, by independent consultancy Steer, tracked the economic, social and cultural benefits that have been felt across the north in the two years since direct flights began with Hainan Airlines.

More than 175,000 passengers have used the route since its launch in 2016, and it is the third most successful service out of the 20 started from the European Union to China in the last five years – in terms of seats on sale, passengers flown and aircraft load factors.

The average spend per visit in the north west increased by 94% to £2,167 and is now 5% higher than the national average.

The China Dividend report also predicts rapid growth in demand for travel to the UK, as the Chinese economy continues to expand.

It suggests Manchester – and the wider north – is well placed to capitalise on this demand, with a wealth of natural, cultural, sporting and economic assets that appeal to the Chinese traveller.

Businesses across the region are already feeling the benefit in the increase in visitors from China.

Rhys Whalley, executive director of the Manchester China Forum, said: “This direct air route via Hainan Airlines is a key enabler for business cooperation and we’ve seen significant economic impact in the last two years since it launched.”

Department store Harvey Nichols in Manchester said it had seen a growing number of tourists and students from China and Hong Kong, with a spokesperson commenting: “It continues to position Manchester as a truly international destination, bringing benefits to businesses across Greater Manchester and beyond.”

Chinese visitors have become a big market for the Cheshire Oaks Designer Outlet comprising more than 50% of tax-free sales. Centre manager Kenny Murray said that since the launch of direct flights from Hong Kong and China, tax-free sale volumes from these markets have grown over 165%.

Michelle Brown, marketing manager at Visit York, said the direct flights marked “a milestone for our relations with China”.

“As a major international gateway into the north of England, the direct flight opens up a world of new opportunities for York, Yorkshire and the north of England, both for tourism and investment generally,” she said.

Jennifer Cormack, chair of the Lake District China Forum, said the region was feeling the benefits of the direct connections between Manchester and Beijing.

“The Lake District has seen incredible growth in the number of tourists from China since 2016, creating jobs and bringing success to our local businesses,” she said.

Joe Cobb from the Lake District Country Hotels and Chair of the Lake District Hoteliers forum agreed: “The information that is available to me suggests that room nights from year to year have almost doubled at one of our properties and the others have shown strong growth.”

Home page image of couple in Lake District: VisitEngland/Rich J Jones