Another day, another development in the seemingly never-ending HNA debt saga. While HNA Group and many of its subsidiaries are involved in the tourism industry, HNA’s flagship subsidiary (and where it all started) Hainan Airlines is perhaps more vital to the tourism industry than other HNA properties. And now, Hainan Airlines—relatively isolated from the HNA crisis thus far—looks set to suffer some of its parent company’s consequences.

HNA is undoubtedly one of the most important companies in Chinese outbound tourism, which makes its downward spiral even more substantial

To say that the eventual fate of HNA is a big story in tourism, or even business as a whole, would be an understatement. The company owns a substantial stake in Hilton, controls Radisson, is a big investor in Dufry, and holds significant stakes in various airlines around the world, and that’s just the beginning of the list of its holdings in tourism and hospitality. If HNA Group were to go the way of the dinosaurs, there would be a lot of companies in tourism and hospitality with uncertain futures in terms of ownership.

But that’s business. HNA being forced to sell off its stake in Hilton or perhaps in Gategroup would have few practical differences for the average Chinese tourist or the average popular Chinese tourist destination.

The same can’t be said for Hainan Airlines, and there are most certainly reasons to be concerned.

According to a recent report in the South China Morning Post, Hainan Airlines is mulling the purchase of “major hotel and aviation assets” from its troubled parent HNA Group. The alleged acquisitions include several domestic airlines in China, as well as an “overseas hotel operator.”

Details on the purchase are still scarce, but will include domestic airlines and an “overseas hotel operator”

Confirmed purchases include West Air, Air Guilin Company, HNA Hospitality Group, Hainan Sky Plumage Flight Training, HNA Technic, and SR Technics. The overseas assets portion reportedly represents 48 to 65 percent of the budgeted purchases, indicating that Hainan Airlines will most likely become the owner of some major overseas assets.

The purchases are pending consultation with “multiple overseas regulators,” and will be funded by Hainan Airlines cash and additional funds raised by issuing new shares.

In an ideal world, Hainan Airlines takes control of HNA assets at a fair price and manages to turn the fortunes around for some of HNA’s troubled subsidiaries. In reality, many of these subsidiaries are likely unprofitable and indebted—much like their parent company. As previously reported by Jing Travel, some of HNA’s airlines are already failing to pay their fuel bills and aircraft leases—liabilities that are likely to end up with Hainan Airlines after a purchase.

And if these asset purchases end up going sour for Hainan Airlines, it’ll be much more impactful for the tourism industry than the current HNA debacle.

Hainan Airlines is China’s fourth-largest airline, and it’s the Chinese airline perhaps the most exposed to outbound tourism. In fact, many destinations around the world depend entirely on Hainan Airlines to bring tourists from China, with other destinations depending on Hainan Airlines for at least a significant portion of their Chinese visitors. A recent example is the new direct flight between Edinburgh and Beijing.

Needless to say, a grounded Hainan Airlines would prove devastating to the tourism business in many destinations around the world.

Hainan Airlines might just be “too big to fail,” making it an attractive option for HNA as a destination for debt

In fact, Hainan Airlines has become a vital component of Chinese tourism flows around the world, and it’s arguably become too big too fail for a Chinese government that sees Chinese tourism as an important soft power tool. That might be somewhat reassuring for destinations that are highly dependent on Hainan Airlines for receiving Chinese tourism flows.

It might just also be the reason why HNA is offloading some of its assets to Hainan Airlines. Bailing Hainan Airlines out will also mean bailing out some of HNA’s other subsidiaries, soon part of Hainan Airlines.

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