Stakes are high as Chinese tourism ready to take off

Kieron Branagan, CEO, OpenJaw Technologies, Martin Shanahan, Chief Executive IDA Ireland; Jobs Minister Mary Mitchell O’Connor; and Dr Yue Xiaoyong, Chinese Ambassador. Photo: Jason Clarke

A direct air link between Ireland and China is looking like a case of when, not if. As reported in this column some months back, and firmed up in the Sunday Independent recently, growing airline Hainan looks the most likely choice.

And their stakes are very high indeed. A summit held in the Mansion House by Dublin-headquartered travel tech company OpenJaw Technologies was told that close to 17,000 new aircraft will be delivered over the next 20 years - the bulk to Asia, primarily China.

China itself has 234 million outbound tourists each year, and the home market is vast. Incredibly, the Chinese used 50 times more mobile payments than the US in 2016 - €5.5 trillion compared to €110bn. "Mobile payments in China is ubiquitous," the attendees were told. "Even the beggars on the streets take mobile payments." OpenJaw, which partners with airlines including Hainan, British Airways and Russia's S7 to promote e-retail on their websites, revealed the potential for Irish tech in the vast Asian nation.

High-profile Chinese ambassador Dr Yue Xiaoyong did a photoshoot around the event with IDA chief Martin Shanahan, while Hainan's Shen Jinping delivered an address on airline retailing.

For its part, the DAA told this column that its executives "met the most senior officers of Hainan four weeks ago and we're working hard on it. There's a massive FDI opportunity and the Chinese are also the highest-spending tourists in the world".

With air traffic to and from Britain tipped to fall 3-5pc this year, Irish business is eyeing opportunities elsewhere, and the airlines are reflecting this.

The leisure-focused brand Air Canada Rouge is ending operations on the Dublin-Toronto Pearson route this winter - to be replaced by a more business-focused Air Canada mainline operation.

The company said "the new product better reflects the growing number of corporate as well as leisure travellers using the route".

The year-round schedule, which starts on October 30, will operate a minimum of three flights per week and rise to at least daily when demand increases in peak seasons. The route will be operated using 292-seat, wide-body Airbus 330-300 series. The aircraft features three cabins with 27 business class seats in a 1-1-1 pod layout, each with aisle access in the front cabin, and 21 premium economy and 244 economy seats.

It's full frills in Business Class with a fully lie-flat seat to a length of 6'3", with lumbar support and massage function; a 30cm touchscreen television with noise-cancelling headphones; cuisine from culinary partner Chef Hawksworth and wine from Canadian sommelier Véronique Rivest.

The move comes as Junior OPW Minister Seán Canney leads a three-day Enterprise Ireland trade mission to Canada, taking in Toronto and Ottawa.

The trade mission is aimed at supporting participating Irish companies in furthering relationships with new and existing Canadian customers, secure market insight and target new opportunities in Canada across a range of growth sectors, and promote the potential of the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement between Europe and Canada.

Leo McAdams of Enterprise Ireland said the aim is to grow exports from 2016's figure of €282m, adding: "We have intensified our focus on increasing the export market penetration and diversification of Irish companies into alternative markets following the UK's decision to leave the EU."

Irish business travellers travelling to and from New York's JFK can now rub shoulders with First Class passengers. American Airlines has extended access to its Flagship Lounges, which include individual work pods and shower access.

In addition to the buffet stations, American will be offering made-to-order entrees and you can also work on your Mojito skills at a "make your own cocktail" station. The newly-refurbished lounge offering will be extended to a number of US airports, with the ones in Philadelphia and Chicago O'Hare set to be of most interest to Irish travellers.

n Speaking of connectivity, Cypriot Airline Cobalt, which is flying twice-weekly from Dublin to Larnaca, will be looking to extend the service to year-round.

What's interesting is the onward connectivity being offered from this month to the likes of tech hub Tel Aviv plus Lebanon, with the airline using the eastern Mediterranean island as a mini-hub to the region.

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