Hainan Airlines has confirmed it plans to launch flights between Beijing and Belgrade after officials from parent company HNA Group signed a letter of intent with the Serbian government last week for the establishment of services, the set-up of a flight training centre in the country, and unveiled plans to invest and run Belgrade Nikola Tesla Airport. The airline has conducted a feasibility study into flights between China and Serbia and also plans to either establish or run an existing flight training centre in the country in order to meet global demand for new pilots over the next fifty years. Furthermore, it was recently revealed that the HNA Group is bidding as part of a Chinese consortium for the 25-year concession of Belgrade Airport.
Details of the new agreement with the HNA Group, as well as Hainan Airlines' planned service to Belgrade are expected to be revealed at the end of the week, when Serbia's President travels to China for a two-day state visit. HNA Group is a Fortune Global 500 company headquartered in China with businesses spanning across aviation, holding, tourism, capital and logistics. As of December 2016, HNA Group has a fleet of over 1.250 aircraft, operates 1.100 domestic and international routes, flies to over 270 cities and serves 92 million passengers annually. It operates and manages Hainan Airlines, Tianjin Airlines, Beijing Capital Airlines, Deer Jet, Lucky Air, West Air, Fuzhou Airlines, Urumqi Air, Beibu Gulf Airlines, Yangtze River Airlines, Guilin Airlines, Chang’an Airlines, Africa World Airlines, and Aigle Azur. Furthermore, it runs HNA Tourism, which will be selling joint tour packages to Serbia and the region, primarily Bosnia and Herzegovina and Montenegro.
Preparations are already underway for the new flights between Beijing and Belgrade. In 2016, some 24.000 Chinese tourists visited Serbia, which is not a large number considering China's size, but for Serbia the trend is encouraging as in 2011 only 12.000 tourists from China came to Serbia. "We hope that the visa free regime, the establishment of a direct flight, joint presentation with our neighbours, as well as the strengthening of regional cooperation in Central and Eastern Europe will have an influence on Chinese tourists to perceive this region as more attractive than before", Milica Čubrilo, the Secretary for Tourism in Serbia's Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said. Miodrag Popović, the head of the Tourist Organisation of the City of Belgrade, noted, "Preparations are ongoing at Belgrade's hotels, restaurants and all those linked to the service and hospitality sectors for the arrival of Chinese guests. Research has provided us with information about what interests Chinese guests the most and how they should be treated, from the most banal such as to avoid anything connected to the number four, to more serious issues, such as that one needs to have Chinese food for guests who stay longer, together with local specialties that they may wish to taste. Chinese guests also like to take photos and we need to provide them with enough places to capture their memories", he said. Flights between Beijing and Belgrade last operated in 2000 when they were run by JAT Yugoslav Airlines. Serbia and China abolished visa restrictions for each other's nationals at the start of the year.