Tourists shore up Hong Kong-Taiwan flights

While business travellers opt for cross-strait services, the leisure market is keeping two-way demand strong, says China Airlines chairman

PUBLISHED : Friday, 19 July, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 19 July, 2013, 5:08am

Demand for airline tickets between Hong Kong and Taiwan has stood up well five years after the launching of direct flights across the strait, with demand from tourists compensating for the drop in business travellers who used to have to travel via Hong Kong, Taiwanese carrier China Airlines said yesterday.

It launched a new route between Tainan and Hong Kong yesterday, with three flights a week. It is the fourth Taiwanese destination it is offering in Hong Kong, following Taipei, Taichung and Kaohsiung.

"We are glad to see that the traffic between Hong Kong and Taiwan held up well even after the direct flight services," China Airlines chairman Sun Huang-hsiang said. "We used to fly 120 flights between Hong Kong and Taipei before 2009 and now we fly 160 flights weekly with smaller aircraft, but similar capacity as a whole."

The airline flies 11 round trips a day from Hong Kong to Taipei, four round trips to Kaohsiung and two to Taichung.

In the first half of the year, the number of tourists travelling from Hong Kong and Macau to Taiwan increased more than 12 per cent year on year to 558,000. Last year, around one million visitors from Hong Kong and Macau flew to Taiwan, with about 1.6 million visitors from Taiwan going the other way, excluding those transiting Hong Kong to the mainland, the director of the Taiwan Visitors Association's Hong Kong office, Wang Chun-bao, said.

"The growth of Hong Kong visitors has been in the double digits over the past five years and we have high hopes that the flights between Hong Kong and Tainan will help to boost the growth."

Sun said the load factor of the new service, deploying a 150-seat B737-800, was 70 per cent on average and was expected to grow to 80 per cent by October before the airline upgraded the frequency of flights to five a week. It plans offer a daily flight to Tainan by the end of the year.

Taiwan is one of the top three outbound destinations for Hongkongers, according to a survey by Nielsen, with 10 per cent of the population visiting the island each year. But travel agents say they need more new destinations to encourage them to revisit the island.

"Tainan, which is rich in historical and cultural attractions, is ideal for in-depth tourism," said Simon Ma Sai-man, assistant general manager (Asia and long haul) at Wing On Travel. "It was the first port opened up and developed in Taiwan when … adventurer Zheng Chenggong conquered the island in the 17th century."

Study tours are another driving force for the growth in traffic between Hong Kong and Taiwan.

"Increasing numbers of Hong Kong students opt to study in Taiwan as the universities there offer a wider range of degree courses, allowing them to choose according to their own aspirations," said Nelson Law, director of Plate-Forme (Hong Kong), an organiser of study tours to Taiwan.

Last year, it helped 1,400 candidates from Hong Kong study in Taiwan, and this year it had received more than 4,000 applications, he said.