Beijingers to Travel Through Charter Flight

The Water Sprinkling Festival of Thailand will be held on April 13-16. This seems to have nothing to do with the Chinese people. However, can you image there are over 1,500 Chinese who have already reserved air tickets on April 16 to take part in the revelry? From the 12th to the 16th, merely in Beijing alone, some 800 people will take the charter flight to Thailand.

It is not a secret that tour fad has become an increasingly important economic factor for airlines, and this has led to rapid growth of tourism-based charter flights.

Charter flight services first began promoting themselves in the early 1990s, but few people could quite understand the business because it seemed too mysterious to Chinese at that time.

The so-called charter flight business includes three market requirements: charter flights for business, for emergency and for tourism.

The business charter flight service was previously intended for the foreign businessmen. Up to now, China’s skies have not been totally opened, meaning foreign airliners do not have access to airspace throughout the country. Even Air Force One had to take a short furlough in Beijing Capital Airport during President Clinton’s visit to China. Air China was then responsible for the rest of the in-country itinerary, flying from one city to another.

The number of businessmen is increasing very fast with the development of exchanges with foreign countries. But to meet the trend, many cities have built their own airports and increased the number of local flights. In these circumstances, the requirement of charter flights for foreign businessmen is naturally becoming less and less.

However, the market of tourism charter flight has changed a lot. Mainly, the service was only intended for foreigners in the past, especially for Japanese who have a habit of foreign travel on their short vacations. They have become the major group to use charter flights in China. Besides, domestic Muslims are presently used to taking charter flights to make a pilgrimage to Mecca every year.

From last year on, the tourism charter flight business abruptly rose, with the number of domestic passengers increasing, thanks to three 7-day-long holidays in a year. Last year, merely in Beijing alone, were there 20 flights flying to Xiamen during the Spring Festival. In the past Spring Festival, many famous travel services, including China International Travel Services, Shenzhou International Travel Services and Spring and Autumn International Travel Services, made approximately 50 flights to popular tourist spots such as Haikou, Xiamen, Beihai, Kunming and Shanghai.

The reason that tourism charter flights win Beijingers’ favor is not because of luxury and manner, as mentioned in some media, but economy and service.

It sounds a little strange. Although the three 7-day-long vacations are golden weeks for airlines, the unpredictable flow of passengers creates headaches. Take the past Spring Festival, for example. It was understood that the passenger flow to Shenzhen would be sharply increasing, but it was difficult to make an accurate prediction that would produce the right economical mix of aircraft. The most tragic thing in the history of Air China occurred during that time when a Boeing 767 with a capacity of several hundred passengers carried only eight. In the meantime, many tour agencies were burning with anxiety at how to get hold of air tickets to meet people’s requirement for travel. Drawing lessons from that experience, more and more tour agencies are becoming large booking units of charter flights. This helps airlines increase their sales and also helps tour agencies cut operating costs. Passengers also benefit.

It is reported that many tour agencies have already contacted Air China, hoping to develop and expand the charter flight business. Will charter flights become a main promotional tool in the doldrums of overall air travel sales? People are looking closely at its future development.

(CIIC 03/27/2001)

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