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Nice-Beijing direct with Air China


Air China inaugural flight (c) Alexa Bouhelier-Ruelle

On 02 August, Nice Airport welcomed the first commercial flight direct from Beijing, China. The connection has been in the works for several years, but now Nice will be connected to the Chinese capital with three flights per week. Air China will be providing the flights on Airbus A330-200 offering 227 seats among which 28 in business class.

This new route is expected to give a major boost to the local economy, with an influx of new tourists coming directly from China. The whole region has been involved in an exceptional plan to connect the French Riviera, via Nice airport, to China and there are big plans for this new market. Several air companies applied at the beginning of the year to open routes between the Côte d’Azur and China, such as Hainan Airlines, who applied for four flights a week from Nice to Beijing starting in October. Shanghai Airlines also applied with four flights a week connecting Nice to Shanghai from January 2020. But from the beginning of August 2019, it is Air China who will offer direct routes from Nice to Beijing three times a week. Perhaps it was the recent visit of President Xi Jinping on the French Riviera that sped up the deal between Air China and Nice Airport. This new partnership with Air China comes as a real historical event for the region, for the future exchanges and the evolution of the “Destination Côte d’Azur” brand.

The maiden flight departed Beijing to arrive at Nice airport at 8:00 am on 02 August. Riviera Insider was there to welcome the flight and attended the arrival ceremony and press conference. The first flight was given a water salute and a delegation was present with a warm welcome to the sunny Riviera. In attendance was Christian Estrosi (Nice’s Mayor, President and deputy of the Alpes Maritimes region and President of the Nice Côte d’Azur metropolis), Bernard Gonzalez (prefect of the Alpes-Maritimes), Tan Huanmin (Vice-president of Air China), Lu Huiying (General counsel for China in Marseille), Isabelle Baumelle (Director of the BU Operations and Côte d’Azur Airports Development), Ye Liu (Actor, Côte d’Azur tourism ambassador in China and Honorary citizen of Nice) and his Niçoise wife, Anais Martane.

Isabelle Baumelle opened the press conference by thanking all the members who worked for several years on this collaboration for their “teamwork and dedication”. She highlighted that this new airline connecting Beijing to Nice was “the missing link to the bigger structure that is Nice Côte d’Azur airport. This is not the end of the line but the beginning of an exciting journey.”

Ms Baumelle handed over the microphone to Tan Huanmin, Vice-President of Air China. He declared that “this year proved to be a milestone for the friendship between France and China. As it marks the 55th Anniversary of both countries’ diplomatic cooperation and the 45th Anniversary of the first flight connecting France to China via Paris.” Mr Huanmin even compared this new flight as a “New Silk Road bringing new growth perspectives both to the French Riviera tourism and China.”

This Franco-Chinese partnership will be supported by different pillars. The first pillar of this collaboration is to release a new application called WeChat Côte d’Azur France Experience. This new application will allow tourists to browse all activities and experiences available on the French Riviera, as well as book those activities with a new transactions system. From the summer 2019, this app will allow tourists to look through what the French Riviera has to offer culturally and also facilitate online payments to book activities. Then, at the end of November 2019, the region will start to solicit Air China’s partners in Beijing as well as being present in the professional salon of tourism between France and China (TFC), where the French Riviera will be represented as well as twenty other regional partners and workshops.

Air China inaugural flight (c) Alexa Bouhelier-Ruelle


Overall, this shows to be a huge success for the French Riviera, which was part of a plan designed at the very beginning of the 1990’s. The impact of this new connection with Asia is far from meaningless. Mayor Estrosi highlighted the importance of common exchanges between China and France, not only in tourism but in all areas. “The French Riviera proved to be trustworthy as a new home - or holiday destination - for many Chinese, as well as companies.” Hence, the technology mogul Huawei already implemented a R&D centre at Sophia Antipolis and the company has already partnered with Monaco Telecom on the Principality’s 5G platform. Estrosi is hopeful the company will carry on the discussion to implement 5G in Nice. 

The Chinese company Galaxy Entertainment Group, from Macao, bought a 5% share of the Société des Bains de Mer’s capital. This partnership opens up casino ventures not only in Monaco and Macao, but also in Japan. In fact, the Nice-Côte-d’Azur Chamber of Commerce identified more than 16 companies with Chinese capital in the Alpes-Maritimes, providing 350 employees. These are part of more than 92 Asian companies in the region with 2000 employees overall.

Finally, the Nice-Beijing flight will boost the number of Chinese tourists in the Côte d’Azur, which recorded more than 100,000 stays in 2018. This number is likely to double by 2025 and introduce China to the Top 10 foreign markets on the French Riviera. Moreover, local residents are also predicted to enjoy this new connection from Nice. Indeed, according to a poll made by Air China at the end of 2018, more than 55% of the French population would like to visit China before 2030.

A rich history and culture

The historical richness of China fascinates billions of people around the world. According to the above mentioned poll, 84% of locals mentioned the Great Wall, 72% the Forbidden City and 63% the Terracotta Armies of the First Emperor of Qin Dynasty as their top interest. Some people have a prejudiced image of China as a vast and densely populated country where gigantic metropolises are developing endlessly. But China harbours awe-inspiring natural treasures that will likely attract the local population.

In his speech, Christian Estrosi strongly underlined the fact that this partnership with Air China works both ways and that both countries should evolve together in all areas. The new airline connection mirrors both countries’ commitment to welcome French people to discover China as well as welcoming the Chinese population on the French Riviera. In the future, Nice’s mayor’s goal is to go from three flights a week to one flight per day.

- Alexa Bouhelier-Ruelle