[UPDATED] China Southern has launched the only direct London to Zhengzhou flight from Gatwick, becoming the third major Chinese airline to serve the airport.
The airline began the twice-weekly service earlier this week. It joins Air China and China Eastern at the airport, which is located just south of London.
Gatwick now has 16 flights a week to China, including twice-daily services to Shanghai.
China Southern is China’s largest airline and will fly Boeing 787-8 aircraft between Gatwick and Zhengzhou Xinzheng International Airport.
Zhengzhou is the capital of Henan Province, and is home to over 10 million people.
According to VisitBritain data, Chinese visitors spend £1,937 on average per UK visit, dropping a total of £1.71 billion in 2019.
“We are delighted to welcome China Southern to London Gatwick,” said Stephanie Wear, VP Aviation Development, London Gatwick.
“China is a hugely important market for us, our passengers, and the regional economy, so it’s fantastic news for London and the South East to have China’s three major airlines operating from Gatwick for the first time.
“The new service to Zhengzhou will enable passengers to not only visit a fantastic city steeped in history and culture, but also visit family and friends, and connect to destinations across China and Asia.”
“Fantastic news for travel retail”
Nick Williams, Head of Retail, London Gatwick added: “The return of Chinese routes to London Gatwick is fantastic news for travel retail, and the wider retail sector across the region. Chinese visitors are well-known as being among the highest spenders.
“Following China Southern’s new route to Zhengzhou this month, London Gatwick now welcomes 16 flights per week from China. So, while it is early days still, we are hopeful this will have a positive impact on retail spend at the airport.
“We are in the process of a major revamp of our North Terminal departure lounge, as part of our vision to be the airport for everyone, whatever your journey.
“Further, we have also welcomed a host of new retailers and F&B outlets this year, with more to come in 2024, so we continue to tailor our offering not only to Chinese passengers, but to all travelling through London Gatwick.”
Tax-free shopping barrier
As reported earlier this year by TRBusiness, scrapping the UK’s tax free shopping programme almost four years ago has been blow to travel retailers as the UK’s reputation as a shopping destination has arguably become less attractive compared to other countries offering the scheme, such as France, Spain and Italy.
Paul Barnes, Association of International Retail CEO, told a Culture, Media and Sport committee in November that UK retailers have lost £1.5 billion in spend since the UK’s tax free shopping programme was culled on 1 January 2021.
Barnes also noted that the full impact of the policy to remove tax-free shopping was yet to become apparent as Chinese passengers are only starting to travel again.
“In 2019, a third of all international tax free shopping was done by Chinese people. So when they come back, they’re going to be really important,” he said.
“The data shows they’re much more price sensitive than any other international visitors. If the cost goes up, their spending [goes down].”
He continued: “That £1.5 billion I talked about, it’s not money that’s not being spent. It is still being spent. It’s just we sent it away from Britain, and it’s now being spent in Spain, Italy, France.”
Earlier this year, Gatwick launched a multi-category tender for 14 retail units spanning 1,000 sqm across its North and South Terminals.