China Eastern Airlines, one of the world’s largest passenger carrier, will launch a direct flight between Budapest and Shanghai next summer, Hungary’s Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto announced on Monday.
The flights should be operated four times per week, according to the minister, who highlighted China’s growing importance as a tourism hub and the surge in Chinese tourists arrivals in recent years. Currently, Hungary and China are linked by only one direct connection between Budapest and Beijing.
The competition in the region is fierce to attract tourists from the Middle Kingdom, ranked among the world’s biggest holiday spenders. Prague, for instance, already has direct flights with three Chinese cities (Beijing, Shanghai, Chengdu). The number of Chinese tourists travelling to Hungary has been growing over the years, and officials expect their numbers to exceed 250.000 by the end of the year. By launching new direct flights with the world’s second economy and most populous country, Hungary aims to become the go-to destination for Chinese tourists wishing to travel further in Central and Eastern Europe or the Balkans.
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán was in Shanghai this week for the opening of the country’s pavilion at the Chinese International Import Expo. Calling Shanghai “the most Hungarian city in China” – in a reference to the footprint left by Hungarian-Slovak architect Laszlo Hudec, who worked as Shanghai’s chief architect in the first half of the 20th century – M. Orbán praised the bilateral relationship between the two countries and held talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping. He also met with a number of high level businessmen, including from the Bank of China and Huawei, which has invested over 1.2 billion U.S. dollars in Hungary since 2005 and employs over 2.000 people in the country, according to state-news agency MTI.
For several years, Hungary has been eyeing Chinese investments within the Belt and Road Initiative and the 16+1 forum – gathering China and sixteen Central and Eastern European states. His “love affair” with China, however, was met with very “few results”, wrote local investigative outlet Atlatszo, and most analysts highlight the country’s growing disenchantment over China’s failure to follow through with its early promises.