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China link no flight of fancy

CHINESE airline China Southern is undertaking market research at home and in WA to measure the demand for flights into Perth International Airport.

The airline has experienced double digit growth in passenger numbers into Australia in the past 12 months.

However, China Southern general manager Annie Ye warned that Australia was facing increasingly fierce competition from European tourist destinations.

“I think Europe will be the next big challenge to Australia,” Ms Ye said.

“I think growth will continue [in Australia] but it will face a big challenge from those people going to Europe.”

China Southern currently operates four flights into Australia, three flights via Melbourne to Sydney and one direct to Sydney.

These flights operate out of Guangung Zhou province.

“We are doing market research [for WA] first to see whether there is a market and to see whether it would be possible to fly to Perth,” Ms Ye said.

“We will look at that market for at least the next six months.

“I believe it won’t have enough of a market for us at this stage but we have the flying college there and it’s certainly worth looking at in the future.”

China Southern conducts flight training for pilots at the flight-training centre at Merredin.

“The airline industry is not doing that well but the Chinese tourist market is really booming,” Ms Ye said.

The introduction of a new system of tourist visas for Australia has made it easier for those travelling in groups to secure the correct documentation.

Ms Ye said agents in China could apply for these visas on behalf of a tourist travelling in a group.

“This year we can see the growth according to the Australian Tourism Commission figures,” she said.

“A few years ago Australia didn’t have this service.”

The challenge now for the Australian tourism industry was to maintain this strong growth.

“Australia is facing a great challenge now that Germany is becoming a tourist destination.

“I believe most Chinese people will be more interested in going to Europe.”

Western Australian Tourism Commission chief executive officer Richard Muirhead said the commission had worked hard to ensure maximum air access to WA.

“As soon as we have direct flights out of China that market is going to be our largest market in 2010,” he said. “We’re talking to China Southern now.”

Mr Muirhead said the commission needed to create a good business case for flying into WA.

“If they then make a commitment to fly this route they will make it work,” he said.

A spokesperson for Westralia Airports Corporation said it was not currently discussing the prospect of flights into Perth with China Southern.

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