The Serbian Prime Minister, Aleksandar Vučić, has held direct talks with a Chinese carrier interested in launching services between Beijing and Belgrade. The high-level talks took place during last week's World Economic Forum in Davos. At a press conference yesterday, Mr Vučić said, "We are not far away from the launch of direct flights". While the Prime Minister did not reveal which company he held talks with, representatives from HNA Aviation, a conglomerate which runs multiple Chinese carriers, were present at the Forum. Some of the companies it owns include Hainan Airlines and Beijing Capital Airlines, among others. Mr Vučić noted that the start of direct flights between the two countries is of high priority after Serbia and China abolished visa restrictions for each others' nationals on January 1. Serbia become only the second European country after the microstate of San Marino to grant Chinese citizens visa-free entry.
Commenting on the future flights, the Chinese Ambassador to Serbia, Li Manchang, said on Saturday, "Two weeks ago I held discussions with three interested airlines and invited them for further talks in Belgrade. It is expected for direct flights between Beijing and Belgrade to be launched this year". Mr Li believes that some 100.000 Chinese tourists will visit Serbia during 2017 as a result of the visa-free regime. "There are two possibilities. One is that tourists will come just to visit Serbia for seven or ten days, even two weeks. Middle-aged people in China have the time, money and affection towards Serbia. They will come. The other possibility are young Chinese who will visit Serbia as one of the stops on their itinerary. They will stay three to four days before moving on to Hungary and Bosnia and Herzegovina", the Ambassador noted.
Late last year, the Chinese Ambassador unveiled that Air China, Hainan Airlines and China Eastern Airlines have all entered into negotiations to commence flights from Beijing to Belgrade in 2017. Furthermore, the Ambassador said that a fourth carrier, from China's south (tipped to be China Southern Airlines) is also considering the service. All four carriers operate international flights out of Beijing. Last December, the Mayor of Belgrade, Siniša Mali, noted that the Serbian capital would see "one or two new direct flights to China in the next few months". At the same time, he ruled out the possibility of Air Serbia operating the service. Chinese carriers are known for applying for permits with local authorities to operate international services just weeks before their planned launch.