It’s common knowledge at this point that Chinese travel is a significant growth market. The rise of Chinese tourism has been nothing but meteoric, and the almost sudden onslaught of smartphone-wielding Chinese tourists in capitals around the world is very practical evidence thereof. It goes without saying that Chinese airports have experienced years of rapid growth as a result.

However, something that may not be as painfully obvious to the casual international observer is that Chinese aviation, in fact, is growing at a much faster rate than Chinese outbound tourism. 11 of the 20 fastest growing airports in the world last year are found in China—and it’s a trend that will likely continue for years to come. Fueled not only by international travel, but also domestic travel and rising incomes in lower-tier Chinese cities, aviation looks set for a bright future in China.

According to research by Routesonline based on preliminary data from travel technology company Sabre, the fastest growing airports in China last year were the following:

  1. Zhuhai Jinwan [ZUH] (1) +36.66%
  2. Nanchang Changbei [KHN] (2) +34.67%
  3. Shijiazhuang [SJW] (3) +32.15%
  4. Quanzhou Jinjiang [JJN] (5) +28.16%
  5. Hohhot Baita [HET] (6) +27.91%
  6. Yinchuan Hedong [INC] (10) +26.16%
  7. Tianjin Binhai [TSN] (11) +25.57%
  8. Taiyuan Wuxu [TYN] (12) +25.28%
  9. Hefei Xinqiao [HFE] (13) +24.72%
  10. Yantai Penglai [YTN] (14) +24.28%
  11. Beijing Nanyuan [NAY] (16) +23.08%

(international ranking in parenthesis)

As may be obvious from the list of growth airports, they’re all “smaller” airports (however, all have at least 5 million passengers per year), with Tianjin Binhai the largest of the airports listed.

Meanwhile, previous growth airports in Chinese second-tier cities like Chengdu and Kunming, as well as first-tier city hubs like Beijing Capital International Airport and Shanghai Pudong International Airport are nowhere to be seen. Indeed, such airports have already reached maximum capacity, or perhaps in some cases, seen their importance as regional aviation hubs wane as newly-built airports start popping up in cities whose residents previously would have traveled further to reach an airport of any notable size.

Ultimately, many of China’s currently fastest-growing airports may continue to have a very limited global footprint in terms of direct flight connections—especially beyond Asia. However, that’s not to say that their rapid rise to prominence in Chinese domestic travel won’t have repercussions for the international tourism industry. On the contrary, these are exciting feeder cities that will bring Chinese travelers from Chinese lower-tier cities to international destinations via transfers at China’s more globally-oriented major airports.

The resulting reduced total flight durations from lower-tier Chinese cities to international destinations will only increase the attractiveness of global travel—and that’s good news for everyone involved in the tourism industry from Shanghai to New York.

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Transportation