E-commerce excellence: foreign airlines team with e-travel firms to connect Chinese tourists with world
By Tu Lei
Global Times


A Lufthansa plane lands at Frankfurt airport. Photo: IC



Lufthansa Group inks cooperation agreement with Chinese travel site qunar.com in Beijing. Photo: Courtesy of Lufthansa

Collaboration with e-commerce companies has become a big trend in the aviation industry recently as more airlines announce cooperation deals with e-travel sites. 
On Wednesday, Lufthansa Group signed a cooperation agreement with Chinese online travel search engine qunar.com in Beijing. The company said passengers using the website can now enjoy the same prices as those listed on the official websites of Lufthansa, Swiss International Airlines and Austrian Airlines.
This is the second cooperation deal the company has signed with a Chinese online travel platform in less than a week.
On October 24, the group announced a strategic cooperation agreement with Alibaba Group's travel platform fliggy. 
The airline has also launched its official online flagship store with the Chinese tech giant. 
But Lufthansa is not alone.  
On October 26, Finnair signed a memorandum of understanding with JD.com Inc (JD), one of the largest online retailers in China. This is the first time a foreign airline launched a flagship store on JD's travel service. The store will be launched early next year.
By then, consumers will be able to book Finnair flight tickets through JD, with the two parties also establishing a long-term strategic partnership in transport and marketing promotion.
Both Lufthansa and Finnair are deemed ''the aged airlines'', with Finnair starting the route from Helsinki to Beijing in 1988. Currently, it operates six direct routes to and from China and plans to start its Nanjing route, located in East China's Jiangsu Province, in May 2018. 
Lufthansa Group now flies to 288 destinations in 106 countries and regions, including 75 flights per week to and from China, which connect the world with cities including Beijing, Shanghai and Nanjing. 
Furthermore, just on Tuesday, Lufthansa welcomed the A350-900 aircraft for its route from Beijing to Munich. 
Latest figures from the Civil Aviation Administration of China show that 4.54 million passengers flew to European countries from China in the first three quarters of this year, up 19.8 percent from the same period last year. It seems that collaborating with online travel companies was a smart choice for the overseas airlines in terms of attracting more Chinese consumers. 
Looking at the current foreign airline collaborations with online Chinese travel sites, it is clear that the relationship between the two parties has changed substantially in recent times. 
In the past, the online travel site was solely a channel to sell airline tickets, but now, it has become an important marketing platform to drive promotions for the airlines. 
According to data from the China National Tourism Administration, there were 122 million domestic passengers traveling abroad in 2016. Of these passengers, young people dominated, who are the Internet generation. That's a reason why airlines are stepping up efforts to embrace online marketing channels.
Dieter Vranckx, vice president of Sales Asia Pacific under Lufthansa Group Airlines, said at a signing ceremony on Wednesday that digitalization is the priority for the group in its global agenda and that now is the right time for the company to cooperate with online travel websites. 
In a note sent to the Global Times on Wednesday, fliggy said that it has connected flagships with more than 70 airlines, including some exclusive deals with carriers such as Emirates, Finnair and ANA.
Travelers have a clear understanding of airlines operating through traditional channels, and the airlines know well what their advantages are, but in terms of online sales, the airlines are still not clearly differentiating, Hu Chenjie, vice president of fliggy said in the note. 
"Those who know well the technology, marketing and the new generation's demand, they need to grasp the advantages."  
Fliggy said the transaction volume on its platform doubled in less than three days after launching a promotion with Cathay Pacific Airlines, enabling it to promote its brand with the help of livestreams and WeMedia.