• Direct flights to Cairns

Direct flights to Cairns (Photo : Getty Images)

Leaders in the tourism sector are “supremely confident” that direct flights between Cairns and China will be launched before this year ends.

Alex de Waal, outgoing chief executive of the Tourism Tropical North Queensland, said that he was positive that three direct flights per week between Cairns and a “primary destination in China” would be actively functioning by December.

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De Waal’s forecast was given alongside a trade delegation to China. Queensland Tourism Minister Kate Jones and Tourism and Events Queensland (TEQ) representatives are bound to China to “sure up” Cairns-China direct flights.

The Australian group will be meeting influential Chinese officials between March 24-31. Senior in-market airline and tourism trade officers are expected to attend the meeting.

According to Minister Jones, the Australian government wants to attract more Chinese tourists to Queensland and "make it easy for them to visit different parts of the state."

Brisbane-China direct flight plans are also under discussion.

“The fact that this trade mission is made up of high-level government officials and representatives sends a clear message to the Chinese that we’re serious about doing business with them,” de Waal said.

“It shows that we respect them, we want to partner with them, we want their people here as guests,” he added.

For the past two years, the TTNQ has been lobbying for Cairns-China direct flights, according to de Waal, expressing his appreciation for the Australian government’s efforts in pursuing trade ties with China.

He also said that the flights will carry significant changes to Australia’s tourism landscape.

“I’m absolutely, supremely confident that these (direct flights) will be in place this year,” de Waals said, citing that the “unique position” of Cairns as a resort destination is the key factor in assuring the flights.

“With this type of tourism, people go to one resort and that’s it,” he said.

De Waals explained that the convenience the direct flights will bring would mean no empty seats. He sees this as “a very unique aviation prospect.”

Norris Carter, CEO of Cairns Airport, supported de Waal’s confidence. He said that dialogues with potential airlines have advanced.

“These flights would add to our existing direct flights from Hong Kong operated by Cathay Pacific and Hong Kong Airlines, and provide easy access direct to Cairns for the world’s largest visitor source market, who list the Great Barrier Reef as their number one must-see global travel experience," Carter said.

“Almost all our Chinese visitors currently travel on domestic flights either to or from Cairns and 81 percent take one both ways. This means any flights from China into Queensland are good for Cairns,” he added.

Carter also said that Cairns is a major attraction and that they have a “strong and flexible domestic network to support Chinese visitors moving around the state.”

He cited that 22,000 additional seats were provided by domestic carriers to fill in the extra demand during the Chinese New Year holiday period early this year.

The trade mission is of great significance to Australia with the reports that TNQ had broken the record of the number of international tourists drawn in 2016.

Chinese tourists from the mainland and Hong Kong topped the list. A total of 253,000 arrivals were recorded, equivalent to an increase of 30 percent since 2015.

With the upcoming launch of direct flights between Cairns and China, the numbers of Chinese visitors arriving at Cairns is expected to increase in the years to come.