Enter the Dragon

A major Chinese airline has announced flights to Cairns early next year.

China Eastern Airlines will operate seasonal services from Shanghai to Cairns for Chinese New Year celebrations in 2024.

Thousands of Chinese tourists are expected to welcome the Year of the Dragon in Tropical North Queensland. There are 10 flights scheduled to operate from February 1 to February 18, four times a week (Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday), encouraging visitors to take a tropical New Year holiday.

Cairns Airport Chief Executive Officer Richard Barker said the significant seasonal service would bring a welcome economic boost, during a traditionally slower period.

“We are delighted to welcome these services to Cairns in 2024, re-establishing a direct service to this key inbound tourism market,” he said.

“This will be the first Chinese New Year service since the pandemic, and further illustrates how our industry continues to recover and thrive.”

The flights will bring 2320 seats into Cairns and the wider region during the operational period and inject up to $3 million into the local visitor economy.

Mr Barker was a member of the senior delegation that travelled to China with Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk recently. The group attended meetings with Chinese industry leaders, including senior executives from China Eastern Airlines.

“It is clear that Australia remains a destination of desire for the Chinese as international travel continues to grow following the challenges of the last few years,” he said.

“These key seasonal services will hopefully accelerate the return of visitors from China, which has historically led our inbound tourism market.”

“We are already seeing Chinese tourists return to Tropical North Queensland after the resumption of direct services between China and Brisbane Airport. We continue to work collaboratively with our airport and tourism partners to enable easy access to our region and encourage Chinese visitation.”

The last time Cairns welcomed seasonal flights from China was in 2019. The most recent scheduled service from China was Hainan Airlines, which operated to Shenzhen and exited in March 2020 due to the pandemic.

China Eastern will operate the Airbus A330 aircraft to Cairns, which has 29 business and 203 economy seats.

Tourism Tropical North Queensland Chief Executive Officer Mark Olsen said the return of direct flights from China was the missing aviation puzzle piece needed for international visitation to rebound bigger and better than it was prior to the pandemic.

“This will be Tropical North Queensland’s opportunity to demonstrate to China that our destination is ready to welcome their visitors and has the demand to turn the Cairns route into a year-round service,” he said.

“We have connected with the tourism trade three times in the past year, which was well received, but to be able to make the connections with the customers via direct flights will make the difference in our international recovery.

“Tropical North Queensland was making great traction with the shift in the China market prior to the pandemic away from large groups to higher spending smaller tailor-made groups and independent travellers.

“The Federal Government’s $15 million International Tourism Recovery Program funding will ensure TTNQ undertakes the campaign activity necessary to make the flights a success.”

Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said the flights would open the door to more jobs for Queenslanders, and opportunities for produce to be exported.

“As Sister States, this announcement is an important acknowledgement of our commitment to boost trade and tourism between Queensland and Shanghai,” she said.

“Locking in these seasonal services directly to Cairns will provide a welcome boost to the region’s visitor economy and open the door to trade opportunities. Every flight in leaves full of local produce in its cargo, which means more good jobs for Queenslanders.”

Tourism and Events Queensland CEO Patricia O’Callaghan said Cairns would be thriving as thousands of Chinese tourists bring in the Year of the Dragon in Tropical North Queensland.

“We had worked hard and long to make Queensland a top destination for Chinese New Year holidays, which also fills a traditional quieter time for our industry, and I am absolutely delighted to see China Eastern Airlines recognising that demand and putting on these special direct services,” she said.

“The strength of Queensland’s aviation support program and our partnerships with industry have been a major factor in locking these flights in and we’ll continue to support China Eastern Airlines with marketing to keep those seats filled.”