Editor’s note: With Lenovo operating one of its two global headquarters in Morrisville and the other in Beijing while the Triangle region’s international business reach continues to grow with companies such as Red Hat, SAS and many more operating in China, the emerging idea of securing a nonstop jet service to China is gaining momentum. Writer Mindy Hamlin reports about Tuesday’s discussion regarding what would be needed to make the flight happen.

DURHAM – It will take more than strong passenger numbers and a new runway for Raleigh-Durham International Airport to attract nonstop service to China. According to RDU President and CEO Michael Landguth, a community coalition will be critical to the airport’s success.

“It is going to take a unified community effort to achieve this lofty goal,” said RDU President and CEO Michael Landguth.

At its China Symposium on Tuesday, Landguth, Duke University President Vincent E. Price and North Carolina Department of Commerce Secretary Anthony Copeland kicked off the regional discussion.

Taking next steps

Each day, approximately 134 people travel between RDU and China through U.S. hubs. However, according to experts in China-outreach recruitment, the community will have to do more.

Mike Boyd, an aviation consultant and managing director of China Ni Hao, recommends a coordinated action plan for China service recruitment that includes a strong regional brand that is supported by an aggressive and digital presence in the country.

The Research Triangle Regional Partnership and its executive director, Ryan Combs, will lead efforts to identify the regional brand to be deployed in China.

Developing the brand is only the beginning. RDU will have to work with leaders in Washington to negotiate and sign a bi-lateral agreement with China, which plans to open 74 new airports by 2020.

Incentives may also be part of the airport’s strategy.

“At some point down the road, this community will need to build a coalition of key stakeholders to shape an incentive package to attract an airline to RDU,” said Landguth.

Preparing for the traveler from China

North Carolina’s outdoor activities, mountains, beaches and Civil War history could draw Chinese leisure travelers to the region. However, the region must be prepared to accommodate them.

David Zhou of China Ni Ha is an expert in attracting in-bound tourism from China. He points out that the region must be ready to provide travelers with information in Chinese, as well as the ability to use their payment tools. Strategies Zhou recommends include:

  • Providing a concierge to greet travelers when they arrive at the hotel.
  • Posting flyers in Chinese at the hotel.
  • Offering Free wi-fi and a WeChat App for the hotel that lists all hotel services and promotions.
  • Ensuring the infrastructure for payment and money withdrawals are in place. WeChatPay and Union Pay are popular in China.

Finding the right airline

Finding the right airline to fly the 7100 miles to China will also be a challenge, said Landguth.

“One of our priorities is to find the right airline to target for this service,” he said.

The goal is to secure three-times-a-week service to China, which Landguth notes, may begin as a charter flight.

Landguth points out, however, that this will all take time.

“It will take three to seven years of deliberate work by our region to gain nonstop service to China,” he said.

Working together as a region

Durham Convention & Visitors Bureau President and CEO Shelly Green agrees that our state has a lot to offer to the traveler from China, including its food, history, cultural offerings and universities. She also agrees that the region will have to work together to attract travelers from China if it is a regional priority.

“It’s going to be critical for our region and our state to work together if China is to become a target for business development, as well as tourism,” said Green.  “The market is vast, and we will need to first determine and agree on whether China is the priority, then work cooperatively in order to have a presence in a country of that size.”

Combs, RTRP’s executive director, is confident the community will do what it takes.

“I have had many conversations with business, economic development and community leaders about a nonstop flight to China and the excitement is palpable,” Combs told symposium attendees. “There is a real energy in the Triangle about this big goal.”