Hainan Airlines, China's largest private carrier by both market share and fleet size, will launch over ten international flights this year with Belgrade likely to be included as well. Speaking at the Belgrade Tourism Fair yesterday, the Serbian Prime Minister, Aleksandar Vučić, said, "I expect for a deal to be reached with a private Chinese carrier for the introduction of flights between Beijing and Belgrade. Air Serbia is not in a position to commence direct flights to China. That is why I asked Chinese carriers to do so and we are very close to reaching a deal with a private airline. Following the good news concerning flights from Beijing, there will be more positive developments from China". Last month, Mr Vučić held talks with representatives from HNA Aviation, the parent company of Hainan Airlines, during the World Economic Forum in Davos.
Hainan Airlines' Senior Vice President, Hou Wei, told the "China Daily" that economic growth campaigns like the Belt and Road Initiative, of which Serbia is a part of, and various bilateral free trade agreements have led to a rise in people-to-people exchanges, which is spurring demand for flights to certain destinations. He added that traffic rights for routes connecting major cities are tight, so direct flights to second-tier cities are practical. "Direct flights between first-tier Chinese cities and second-tier foreign cities, as well as second-tier Chinese cities and top-tier foreign cities, are expected to grow rapidly in the future, given the significant demand for international travel in China. We analyse the markets city by city, to study their economic development models, annual fiscal performance, average income and their demographics, like if the majority of their population is turning into middle class consumers given to wanderlust".
Earlier this week, Serbia's outgoing President, Tomislav Nikolić, noted he would bring "good news that will benefit both Serbian and Chinese citizens" following his state visit to the country next month. He added the news would be communicated to the public by the Prime Minister. Furthermore, earlier this week, Serbia's Minister for Trade, Tourism and Telecommunications, Rasim Ljajić, met with China's Ambassador to Serbia to discuss "concrete steps to increase the number of Chinese tourists". Speaking after the meeting, the Chinese Ambassador said, "We expect for a direct air link between the two countries to be introduced this year, which, together with the abolition of visas for Chinese citizens, is the most important step towards a significant increase in the number of Chinese tourists to Serbia". Mr Ljajić noted that Serbia will present a joint product with Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Macedonia for Chinese tourists.
Sino-Serbian relations have soared since the launch of China's Belt and Road Initiative, which has seen the arrival of several large Chinese companies to Serbia and the abolition of visa requirements between the two nations. "We will launch more routes connecting China with countries and regions along these two trading routes to assist our counterparts in building and operating airports to improve local transportation services", Hainan Airlines' President, Sun Jianfeng, said. He added, "In comparison with 2016, a growing number of countries are working on simplifying visa procedures for Chinese travellers, including the introduction of digital visas, lowering of visa fees and shortening waiting periods".