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Tue 13 Dec 2011 11:30 AM

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Qatar Airways in push to tap lucrative China market

CEO of state-backed carrier says will have 70 flights a week to Asian giant by 2013

Qatar Airways in push to tap lucrative China market
Qatar Airways chief executive officer Akbar Al Baker. (AFP/Getty Images)

Qatar Airways, Doha’s flag carrier, plans to double its
flights to China to 70 a week by 2013 as it seeks to tap the world’s
fastest-growing major economy, the airline’s CEO has said.

The state-backed carrier, which has just increased its routes
to the country from 25 to 35 flights a week, plans to invest in real
estate and employ more staff in China, pending permission from its aviation
authority.

“If China’s aviation authority permits us to double our
frequency in the next two years, we will invest in more real estate and employ
more staff in China in the future,” he told China Daily.

“An increasing number of Chinese residents are traveling
overseas, which will provide enough customers for carriers.”

Gulf carriers are ramping up their expansion to China, an
increasingly important source market for tourism
for the region. Abu Dhabi flag
carrier Etihad said in December it would bolster its existing flights from
Beijing with four, non-stop services a week from Chengdu, China’s south-west
economic hub.

In July, the state-backed airline said it would launch daily
returns between the UAE capital and Shanghai from March 2012.

“The likes of Qatar Airways and other GCC carriers want to
expand and tap into China where its population of over a billion people
represents huge business opportunities,” Saj Ahmad, chief analyst at
London-based SA Research said.

“With greater [bilateral] technological and industrial trade
growth… we're going to see air services expand more quickly over the coming
years.”

More than 150,000 Chinese tourists visited Dubai, the Gulf’s
trade and tourism hub, last year, the emirate’s state tourism department said
in October. Neighbouring Abu Dhabi hosted 1,256 Chinese travellers in August,
an increase of 14 percent on the year-earlier period, according to the Abu
Dhabi Tourism Authority. 

A large share of China's tourist spending is already flowing
beyond its borders, with many luxury retailers counting Chinese among their
biggest spenders. In Dubai Duty Free, the world’s largest airport retailer,
Chinese travellers rank alongside those from Russia and Europe as the company’s
biggest spenders.

Dubai’s Jumeirah Group in March said it had indentified
travellers from China as the fastest growing group of guests in its hotels.

Bilateral trade between Arab countries and China reached
$142.6bn in the first nine months of this year up from $145.4bn for the whole
of 2010, the University of International Business and Economics said Dec 3.

Qatar Airways, the second-biggest Arab carrier, plans to
roll out up to 15 new routes over the next year in a bid to increase its share
of the lucrative long-haul market, Al Baker said in November. The airline is
one of the world’s largest buyers of new aircraft, last month adding five Airbus
A380 superjumbos and 50 A320neos to its order book in a $6.5bn deal with
Airbus.

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