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Travel Alberta Strategies Leverage New Beijing-Calgary Flight

The launch of a non-stop flight between Alberta and China is opening up a world of new opportunities for the province’s tourism industry to connect with one of the largest and fastest growing travel markets.

On June 30, Hainan Airlines began offering flights three times a week between Calgary International Airport and Beijing Capital Airport. They are operating an Airbus A330 on the route to start with plans to operate with a Boeing 787 Dreamliner staring in August.

Travel Alberta has been laying the foundation for this flight since 2010, when Canada received Approved Destination Status in China, allowing for direct marketing to consumers.

“This flight is extremely important to our efforts in China,” says Darlene Fedoroshyn, Travel Alberta’s Business Development Director, Asia Pacific. “It will significantly increase access from mainland China as well as the rest of Asia.”

With the new flight now up and running, Travel Alberta is working with partners on a three-year strategy to drive further awareness and demand for Alberta experiences in China.

Plans include travel trade outreach and training, industry partnerships, product development, media relations, social media, key online initiatives and strengthening Alberta’s position in the MICE (Meetings, Incentives, Conventions, Events) segment.

According to the Calgary Airport Authority, the new Calgary-Beijing route is expected to create the equivalent of more than 625 full-time jobs and $31 million in wages, and generate $76.24 million in gross domestic product contributions each year.

High Potential Market

China has long been a key target for Travel Alberta, says Fedoroshyn. It’s the world’s second-largest economy and one of the fastest growing outbound travel markets. The United Nations World Tourism Organization predicts China will generate 100 million arrivals worldwide by 2020.

According to Destination Canada, an estimated 454,000 Chinese travellers visited Canada in 2014 and spent $920 million. Overnight trips from China to Canada grew by 8.8 per cent in 2015, compared to 2014.

Visitation to Alberta grew 258 per cent from 2011 to 2015, according to Destination Canada. According to Statistics Canada, total visitation to Alberta in 2014 reached 91,000 travellers.

“Alberta has authentic experiences that resonate with Chinese travellers ─ nature, five UNESCO World Heritage Sites, culture, wildlife and shopping are strong travel motivators,” says Fedoroshyn. “With our uncrowded landscape, blue sky and clean air, we’ve got fantastic opportunities to tap into this market.”

While traditional escorted group tours still account for the largest group of travellers from China, the fastest-growing segment is independent travel by affluent middle-class and luxury travellers aged 20-45.

“That means demand is growing for tailor-made and themed tours, unique experiences, exciting adventure and outdoor activities ─ all of which we can deliver in Alberta,” she says.

Free Training Sessions Support Industry

Chinese travellers are also younger and more digitally connected than many international travellers. Research shows they create and curate content at a far higher rate which means they can become raving fans or become disenchanted and share their dissatisfaction with others.

“Of course, we want raving fans,” says Shelley Grollmuss, Travel Alberta’s Vice President of Industry Development. “When the Beijing-Calgary flight was announced, we saw an opportunity to help Alberta’s tourism industry learn how to serve this market to create positive impressions and generate rave traveller reviews.”

Global Ready ─ China is a free training program provided by Travel Alberta to give industry partners a common understanding of this complex market. The first session on cultural awareness launched in May with a series of live seminars in Edmonton, Jasper, Lake Louise and Calgary. A total of 243 people attended.

An on-demand online version launched June 13 and additional training webinars specific to the hotel, restaurant and retail sectors will be rolled out in July and August.

Multi-Faceted Strategy

Other Travel Alberta strategies in place to support tourism from China include:

  • The development, in cooperation with airlines and tour operators, of a collection of new themed itineraries for 2016, such as marathon, golf, photography and RV.
  • A new Chinese language media website, Travel Planner and map of the province.
  • The sharing of Alberta stories with media and key influencers. To date, 192 articles have been published, with a total advertising value of $337,426 and reaching an audience of more than 5.6 million.
  • The enhancement of an Alberta presence on social media sites such as Weibo and WeChat, which saw an increase in engagements of 171 percent from 2014 to 2015.
  • A top level partnership with CTCTV, or Zhou You Jia Na Da, an innovative online travel/lifestyle video program that generates an average of 2.5 million viewers. Travel Alberta has secured 10 episodes over the past two years.
  • Cinema commercials to leverage the buzz surrounding the release of The Revenant film in China in March 2016. The commercials, which raised awareness of Alberta and the new direct flight, attracted more than 2.5 million views.
  • An online consumer campaign with the theme of #AlbertaGO which resulted in 80,000 visits to travelalberta.cn, 120,000 social media engagements and 5,000 referrals to tour operator packages.
  • Additional investment with Destination Canada to leverage Travel Alberta’s year-round media buy in China to promote the new route.
  • The Travel Alberta MICE team is building its database of MICE agents and booking sales calls and presentations with many of the large and small tour operators in China. The team will also attend the CIBTM MICE tradeshow in Beijing on Sept. 7-8, 2016, in conjunction with a number of Canadian partners.
  • Travel Alberta will attend Destination Canada’s annual Showcase Canada Asia, in Nanjing, China from October 16-21. This tradeshow brings Canadian suppliers together with over 100 qualified buyers from mainland China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, South Korea and Southeast Asia. Travel Alberta is also planning to lead media events and trade training in Nanjing, Chengdu, and Beijing for Alberta-based destination marketing organizations and receptive tour operators active in the China market.


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