THE maiden arrival of a China Southern Airlines charter flight today (pictured) at Gold Coast Airport signals a renewed vigour in the push for the lucrative Asian market.

The Airport partnered with Gold Coast Tourism to welcome 300 travel and industry delegates, who were greeted with a celebration including Currumbin Sanctuary koalas, Aboriginal dancers and local surf lifesavers.

Delegates will spend four days scouring prospective locations and conference facilities throughout South East Queensland – the largest trade and corporate business ‘famil’ of its kind to touch down on the Gold Coast. Two days will be spent on the Gold Coast.

Visitors include senior airline management, including president Tan (China Southern) and senior executives from the airline’s top travel and ticketing agencies and representatives from their largest Chinese corporate clients.

China Southern Airlines is expanding its services quickly into Australia following success on the route as being the key to its transition to a truly network-oriented airline.

President Tan Wan’geng says China Southern expected to carry 80 million travellers in 2011, mostly on its extensive domestic routes.

“We will make greater efforts at the other end of these kangaroo routes to make our Guangzhou hub an important gateway hub into China and even into the Asia-Pacific region as well as an ideal transfer centre between Australia and Europe,” he says.

Tan says Australia is a focal point for the airline’s global operations due to the historic links Australia had with southern China and the synergistic trade and tourism interests between the two nations.

“China Southern’s Australia strategy is important for our integration into the international marketplace and the development of our worldwide brand,” he says.

He says China Southern’s Australian growth had been impressive, rising quickly from 10 services a week into three destinations in 2009 to 35 weekly flights into four destinations with the start of Beijing-Guangzhou-Perth flights last month.

“From January to November this year, China Southern Airlines carried some 498,000 passengers from mainland China to Australia and New Zealand, a year-on-year increase of 114.1 per cent and almost 30 per cent of the total traffic between the two markets,” he says.

“China Southern has become the largest air carrier from mainland China to the region. (It) has received generous coordination and support from the Australian government, tourism bureau, airports and all sectors of the society as we further introduce ourselves to the Australian business and leisure communities.”

Gold Coast Tourism (GCT) relocated an office from Singapore to Shanghai earlier in the year to capitalise on the growth of China.

GCT chief executive Martin Winter, says attracting the largest delegation in history from Southern China to the Gold Coast was the result of a lot of hard work over the last year.

“This is an absolute critical milestone that we have reached,” he says.

“It will reassure the tourism industry that when China Southern decides to fly here in 2015, we will be prepared. Gold Coast Tourism is absolutely committed to this and we have a lot to look forward to.”

Winter says the aim is to have 750,000 Chinese visitors fly into the Coast by 2020.

The Guangzhou-based airline has operated in Australia for more than 10 years and now flies twice daily between Sydney and Guangzhou, 11 times a week to Melbourne, four times a week to Brisbane and three times a week to Perth.

It operates the largest airline fleet in Asia and is the third largest airline in the world by passenger numbers.

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