(Yicai Global) May 16 -- Finavia Corp., a Finnish state-owned airport operator that promotes its main Helsinki Airport as the fastest connection between Asia and Europe, is looking to attract Chinese airlines and travel agencies with speedy transfers, a focus on Chinese customer service and a EUR900 million (USD1 billion) development program that includes Asian food and beverage outlets.
Almost 500,000 Chinese passengers visited Helsinki Airport last year, and the number rose 20 percent in the first quarter of this year, Katja Siberg, senior vice president of marketing and communications at Finavia, told Yicai Global in an exclusive interview yesterday. Siberg is in Shanghai to attend ITB China 2018, an aviation trade fair held between May 16 and 18.
Some 70 percent of the passengers from China were transferring flights for other destinations, which is something Finavia and national airline Finnair are working to change with a stopover campaign offering up to five days free-of-charge in Helsinki, Siberg said.
In an effort to tap into the world’s biggest source of tourists, Finnair is operating 38 weekly flights from Finland’s capital airport to seven destinations in China, and just added a direct route to Nanjing on May 13. A flight to Beijing will take about 7.5 hours and Helsinki Airport can facilitate a minimum transfer time of 40 minutes, which is partly why the airport was named No. 1 for connections in northern Europe last year, Siberg said.
ACI, Skytrax Awards
Helsinki Airport was recognized as the best-connected airport in northern Europe last year, with its 145 non-stop destinations, in a report published by the Airports Council International. UK airline-ranking site Skytrax also handed the aviation base its 2017 award for the best airport in northern Europe based on responses from 14 million passengers (100 nationalities, 500 destinations) between last August and this February. It also named Finnair as northern Europe’s best airline last year for the eighth consecutive year.
With such lucrative prospects, why do no Chinese airlines fly to Finland? The reasons are complex, said Siberg, adding that partnerships take years to materialize. Moreover, much depends on aviation alliances. Finnair belongs to the Oneworld grouping, which is smaller than rival Star Alliance that includes China Eastern Airlines. China Eastern will start its first direct route between Shanghai and Stockholm Arlanda Airport in June.
Finavia entered talks with HNA Group Co.'s Lucky Air, which was supposed to open a route from China's Kunming to Chengdu and then to Helsinki in January, Business Traveller reported on its website. But those plans were shelved after the parent company ran into cash flow issues late last year.
Helsinki Airport is expected to serve some 20 million passengers this year, which has prompted Finavia to embark on an expansion plan that will lift capacity to 30 million by 2022. The new west wing will cater to Chinese visitors based on the feedback given by Chinese actor Ryan Zhu, who lived in a small cottage at the airport last year for 30 days in a media stunt named #LIFEINHEL.
Some of the services include hot water dispensers, a Moomin cartoon character cafe, and an Ajimen Ramen Asian restaurant with a special dish of reindeer noodle soup. At the old and new terminals, customers can also use Alipay, the popular third-party payment platform of China’s Ant Financial Services Group, and cards issued by Chinese bankcard provider China UnionPay Co.
Finavia has hired more Chinese-speaking staff and runs a real-time mobile translation application called Tulka. The firm is also using various Chinese social media platforms such as WeChat, Weibo, and Youku to keep its Chinese customers posted about its services.
To attract more Chinese airlines and travel agencies at the ITB China fair, Siberg said not only is Helsinki Airport focused on serving Chinese passengers on their own terms, she also mentioned the lures of Finland’s clean air, nature, and saunas, as well as Lapland’s winter wonderland with its husky sleigh rides and northern lights.
Editor: Emmi Laine