The UK’s Birmingham Airport has won the race to be the first UK non-London airport to host direct flights to and from China.

capa-306x90The services will connect Birmingham and Beijing. They will be operated by China Southern Airlines, and while the modest programme may be charter only and operate over a short summer period, this victory for the UK’s seventh largest airport by passenger numbers throws down the gauntlet to other regional airports to match its ambition.

Birmingham Airport’s marketing management is convinced that there is strong demand at both ends of the route, although it is anticipated that the balance will tip in favour of Chinese tourists who are keen to experience Britain’s scenery and historical culture, much of which is more easily accessible from Birmingham than from London, as well as retail shopping opportunities.

Visitor numbers from China to the UK have doubled in the last five years and tourism executives hope they will treble again by 2020.

In a UK tourist environment that remains heavily weighted in favour of London as a gateway entry point and base it may be difficult at first for an inconnu to understand why Chinese tourists would want to avoid the London beat. But Chinese visitors are notoriously keen to soak up culture and Stratford upon Avon, the birthplace of playwright and poet William Shakespeare and visited by five million tourists each year, is located within 20 miles (32 km) of Birmingham Airport.

It is also as easy to access Oxford, another of the UK’s most visited cities, from Birmingham as it is from London, also the Regency city of Bath in the West Country; Birmingham is, after all, close to the exact centre of England.

Marketing organisations around Birmingham, led by BHX, envisage a tourist ‘loop’ that encompasses some of these places as well as the Peak District, Snowdonia, English Lake District and York to the north, Cambridge to the east and even ‘Bicester Village’, a designer outlet shopping mall north of Oxford that is already in huge demand by Chinese visitors to the UK.

For more on this story, read the full CAPA analysis here.

This story originally appeared on CAPA – Centre for Aviation, a Skift content partner.

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