By Wang Wen
China's major airlines are grabbing their own share of the expected influx to London for the Olympic Games, adding new routes to the UK capital in the run up to the event.
But travel experts are warning that demand for tickets is huge, and prices are already increasing rapidly as the opening ceremony approaches.
The third London Olympics starts on July 27 and runs until Aug 12, bringing thousands of competitors and visitors to the city.
With 30 days to go, a recent survey of more than 365,000 taxi passengers in China's five biggest cities, by the Chinese taxi media company Touchmedia, revealed that 12 percent of the respondents said they plan to fly to London for the Games.
Other statistics from Forward Data SL, the tourist industry data specialist, showed an expected 13 percent rise in the number of arrivals to London during the event, comparing with the same period last year.
The greatest number of visitors will arrive on the day before the opening ceremony, with a 72 percent increase comparing with the previous year, and according to the figures, Asia will be the third largest source of visitors.
Wu Xiaoming, general manager for Air China Ltd in the UK, said that it had added a new route between Beijing and London Gatwick Airport, the UK's second-largest airport, to meet the added demand, on top of the 11 flights it already operates weekly to the city's Heathrow Airport.
China Southern Airlines Co Ltd has just added its first route from Guangzhou to London from June 6, to coincide with the Olympic rush.
It reports flights to the UK capital since have been 90 per cent full, against a normal average of 80 percent to the UK.
Both Air China and China Southern use A330-200 aircraft on their new routes, which can carry more than 200 passengers, and the former already says it is considering putting larger aircraft on its London routes between July 27 and Aug 12, if demand continues at current high levels.
Chinese passengers have several route choices to London, including the three main Chinese airlines and some European airlines, if they want to fly direct. But passengers are being warned that prices will rise as the event nears, as well as this being a peak period anyway for traveling to Europe.
Ticket prices from Beijing to London in July are reported to be 43 percent higher than in May, and from other major cities including Shanghai and Guangzhou as much as 50 percent higher, according to Ctrip.com International Ltd, the travel information website.
Willie Walsh, chief executive of International Airlines Group, the parent company of British Airways, has confirmed that his airlines doesn't offer any discounts during the annual peak summer season, but added that unlike Chinese airlines, British Airways does not expect to earn more money throughout the Olympics, because it doesn't plan to open any new routes during the period.
BA's rival Virgin Atlantic Airways Ltd, also based in the UK, which runs a route between Shanghai and London, is also refusing to add any flights during the Olympics.
Julie Southern, its chief commercial officer, told the Sydney Morning Herald, that in fact the airlines expects to lose money, with more British people choosing to stay at home this summer.