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Air China swoops into Zurich in wake of Chinese takeover spree

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As Chinese appetite for Swiss companies grows, so is demand for flights between the two countries.

[ZURICH] As Chinese appetite for Swiss companies grows, so is demand for flights between the two countries.

Air China Ltd is seizing on an opportunity to jet more executives to Zurich by introducing its first direct flights from Beijing to the financial hub on Wednesday. Airbus SE A330-200s will ferry as many as 227 passengers between the cities four times a week.

"More and more Chinese companies are interested in investing in Switzerland," Chen Ge, general manager of Air China's Swiss branch, said in an interview in Zurich.

"That's helpful for our operations because it means there are more businessmen traveling to Switzerland."

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The start of the route follows on the heels of a string of Chinese takeovers in the central European country, the biggest of which was China National Chemical Corp's US$43 billion purchase of pesticide maker, Syngenta AG. Smaller deals have taken place in the aviation, energy and waste management industries.

Deutsche Lufthansa AG also stands to benefit from the new service. The company in September said it's setting up a commercial joint venture with Air China that allows the partners to coordinate schedules and prices on routes covered, which will include the German airlines' Swiss and Austrian arms.

Swiss and Air China already code-share on the airlines' twice weekly Geneva-Beijing route, meaning each carrier sells tickets for those flights.

The cooperation will also include the new service offered by Air China to Zurich, and the companies will share the revenues generated from these flights once the joint venture is fully implemented.

The flights will not only haul executives to Switzerland, but also big-spending tourists seeking luxury goods. Some of the most popular Swiss watch brands can be purchased at a lower price in continental Europe than in mainland China. Chinese consumers accounted for as much as half of the world's spending on Swiss timepieces in past years, according to Citigroup.

Swiss luxury-goods maker Richemont last month disclosed a five per cent stake in Dufry AG, the world's largest travel retail company, after Chairman Johann Rupert predicted Chinese tourists will buoy the economic prospects of France, Italy and the rest of Europe.

While Air China's direct flights to Zurich are targeted mainly at business travelers, Chen Ge said he is also expecting a significant increase in the numbers of tourists.

"Switzerland is still a dream destination for the Chinese," he said.


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