Brisbane secures first direct flights to Chinese mainland since pandemic

Brisbane secures first direct flights to Chinese mainland since pandemic

Photo (L-R): Jason Sun of China Southern Airlines, QLD Tourism Minister Stirling Hinchliffe, Tourism and Events Queensland CEO Patricia O'Callaghan, Brisbane Airport CEO Gert-Jan de Graaff, and China Consul General Brisbane Dr Ruan Zongze.

Asia's largest airline by fleet size has locked in a new service from Guangzhou to Brisbane starting in November, representing the first direct flights to Queensland from mainland China since the pandemic.

It is estimated that the new China Southern Airlines route, starting with four non-stop services a week from 17 November with plans for daily flights within two years, will generate almost $441 million for the visitor economy over three years.

The new route is the 25th international service secured by the Queensland Government's $200 million Attracting Aviation Investment Fund (AAIF), with the announcement coming just after Brisbane Airport chief executive officer Gert-Jan de Graaff returned from personal negotiations with China Southern executives in Guangzhou.

"Currently more than half of Queensland’s visitors from China are forced to fly via Sydney or Melbourne and the rest are coming via destinations like Singapore and Hong Kong," says de Graaff.

"Today’s announcement will restore Queensland’s direct connection to our most lucrative market. 

"No single country has a bigger impact on Queensland’s tourism industry as China. We welcome China Southern Airlines back to the BNE family, and the thousands of tourists who will follow, and the good jobs they’ll support across Queensland."

The news follows the Chinese Government's announcement last week that it was lifting the pandemic suspension of its Approved Destination Status scheme, allowing travel agencies in China to book outbound group travel to Australia.

"The timing is perfect with the announcement on Thursday by the Chinese Government that it will allow travel agencies in China to book outbound group travel to Australia," adds de Graaff.

"This is good news from Surfers Paradise to the Great Barrier Reef, and all the way to the top of the brand-new Queen’s Wharf Sky Deck."

China was Queensland’s biggest tourism earner before COVID-19, contributing $1.61 billion in overnight visitor expenditure. It has been the largest missing link in the international recovery since the pandemic cancelled direct flights in 2020.  

China is also a significant source of international students for Queensland’s biggest services export with 21,680 enrollments during 2022. However, the current number of passengers arriving from China is sitting at 12 per cent of 2019 levels. 

"Securing China Southern from Guangzhou is a game changer, and an incredibly important step in rebuilding Queensland’s international visitor economy after the pandemic," says Tourism Minister Stirling Hinchliffe. 

"China is crucial to Tourism and Events Queensland’s Blueprint for growing an $11 billion international visitor economy on our runway to the 2032 Olympic and Paralympic Games.” 

The new route is also expected to be a boon for exporters, as this direct air-cargo channel supported shipments of 11,000 tonnes of food to China annually pre-pandemic. Since then, the majority of Queensland-grown produce sent to China has had to go via Melbourne or Sydney.

Queensland’s top exports to China currently include chilled beef, seafood, provitamins and vitamins, beauty and make-up products and fresh produce. 

"This is massive news for Queensland exporters with the volume of freight sent to China slumping since the loss of direct flights," says de Graaff.

"Now Queensland’s rural producers and exporters will again have direct access to 1.4 billion customers across China and beyond."

Tourism and Events Queensland CEO Patricia O'Callaghan says this is news the tourism industry has eagerly been awaiting.

"Twice this year I’ve travelled to China to meet with stakeholders and rally Team Queensland to ensure we not just re-establish this market but hopefully grow it," she says.

"We know how important this market is and will be working hard to put Queensland right at the top of the ‘must do’ list.

"When China’s borders opened earlier this year, we immediately kicked off the ‘Queensland is Good to Go’ campaign to encourage travelers back and will partner with China Southern to drive demand."

This sentiment is echoed by Queensland Tourism Industry Council CEO Brett Fraser.

"It is great to be welcoming back direct flights between Guangzhou and Queensland’s capital city. The return of these giants of aviation to our skies is a good sign of tourism confidence and revitalisation," Fraser says.

"Better connectivity and greater availability of direct flights makes Queensland a more appealing destination and gives us a competitive edge in a highly competitive global market."

Australia-China Business Council CEO Elizabeth Sullivan says the return of these flights is hugely important for facilitating two-way direct people-to-people links, particularly for those in the trade and investment space, and across the broader community, including in tourism and education.

"Behind all the trade and investment numbers are hundreds of Queensland companies and thousands of jobs across the state. These flights will make it so much smoother and easier for those wanting to do business or to travel to now visit Queensland and/or China," she says. 

China Southern Airlines regional general manager Australia & NZ, Jason Sun, says the resumption of this route is a testament to the valuable support provided by the Queensland Government and Brisbane Airport.

"Through this collaboration, China Southern Airlines aims to further expand the ‘Canton Route’ and, in turn, contribute to the influx of tourists from China as well as business and leisure travelers from other parts of the globe to Queensland," says Sun.

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