The first direct flights between Ireland and China are set to dramatically impact Irish tourism. Direct services between Dublin-Beijing and Dublin-Hong Kong launched in June 2018.

The Dublin to Beijing flight is operated by Hainan, China’s largest independent airline, with two non-stop services each week, and two services with a stopover in Edinburgh. The Dublin to Hong Kong service flies four times a week with Cathay Pacific.

Ireland currently welcomes around 70,000 Chinese visitors per year, but Tourism Ireland hopes that the new flights could increase annual arrivals to 175,000 by 2025. James Kenny, Tourism Ireland’s Manager China, said, “the introduction of the new direct flight from Beijing next week is a major game-changer”.

Tourism Ireland recently conducted a trade mission to China, promoting Ireland as a destination to Chinese tourism organisations and travel agents. As well as emphasising the country’s natural beauty and cultural heritage, the organisation is also playing on Ireland’s role in iconic TV shows and movies, providing locations for blockbuster entertainment such as Star Wars and Game of Thrones.

Competition for Chinese travellers is increasing in the British Isles and across Europe. The number of flights between the UK and China is increasing rapidly, with UK airports welcoming more travellers from emerging origin cities such as Wuhan (via China Southern), Chengdu (Air China) and Guangzhou (Hainan Airlines).

Other emerging destinations for Chinese travellers include Turkey, Tunisia and the Czech Republic. Tunisia welcomed its first direct flight from Beijing in February 2018, while Turkey has 27 regular direct flights to China that could bring as many as half a million tourists to the country in 2018. Meanwhile, Sichuan Airlines has extended its Chengdu-Prague flights with a stopover in Zurich.

The challenge for Irish businesses will be to encourage Chinese tourists go beyond the Edinburgh stopover to reach Dublin. Edinburgh is considered the second most popular tourist destination after London, due to its historical and cultural reputation. Ireland has a rich history of its own, but many Chinese people are less familiar with the destination. However, the country’s luxury hotel offering, award-winning cuisine, historic sights and Dublin shopping offer are likely to prove appealing to experienced Chinese travellers looking for a new experience beyond the usual European destinations.

“The introduction of the new direct flight from Beijing next week is a major game-changer”.

James Kenny, Tourism Ireland’s Manager China