Hainan Airlines starts direct flights from Tel Aviv to Guangzhou

The southern gate to China opens up a whole new world of opportunities for Israelis, says Dr. Shuki Gleitman

Hainan Airlines (photo credit: Courtesy)
Hainan Airlines
(photo credit: Courtesy)
When the Chinese carrier Hainan Airlines inaugurates a weekly route from Tel Aviv to Guangzhou on August 2, it will be introducing a new gateway for Israeli tourists, business people and artists to the fascinating city on the Pearl River in southern China.
“Now that direct flights are starting between Israel and Guangzhou, the southern gate to China opens up a whole new world of opportunities for Israelis,” says Dr. Shuki Gleitman, a former chief scientist who serves as both chairman of and the Guangzhou Innovation Office in Tel Aviv and the Guangzhou Sino-Israel Bio-Industry Investment Fund (GIBF). “I can tell you that from my experience over the past years in South China, and particularly Guangzhou, it’s a great opportunity for Israel, and we have already done a lot to strengthen business ties between Israel and Guangzhou.”
In recognition of Israel’s innovative achievements, the City of Guangzhou opened its Innovation Office in Tel Aviv in June 2017 “to expand the cooperation and strengthen the economic and trade relations between Guangzhou and the State of Israel in the fields of technology, science and innovation.” It has only two other economic representative offices – in Boston and the Silicon Valley – and is planning a fourth in Europe, apparently in Berlin.
“Whereas in the US, they sent Chinese teams, in Israel they decided to appoint a local team headed by me, with Liraz Geva as the CEO representing Guangzhou in Israel, Carl Geng, a former Chinese senior official who serves as a strategic adviser, and Avner Lushi, who is CEO of the GIBF,” says Gleitman. “China is what Americans call ‘the next frontier.’ In the next 10 years or so, China will probably overtake the US as the world’s leading economy. I can hardly predict what will happen, but I can see what is happening, and how they are investing for the future, and I think they know how to manage businesses, they have a great work ethic, they have good people; their businesses are hugely successful, and they have enormous potential.”
A group of Israeli journalists has been invited to join the first flight to Guangzhou, and to meet with local political and business leaders in the city, which is the third largest in China with a population of some 15 million. About 120 km. from Hong Kong, it was known as Canton and is the capital of the southern Chinese province of Guangdong.
Besides touring museums and a range of cultural and historic sites, medical facilities and large companies, a highlight for the journalists will be watching Israeli soccer star Eran Zahavi play for the local team, Guangzhou R&F, for which he has scored a record 61 goals since 2016. He signed a three-year contract with the Chinese club worth $10 million a season, making him the highest-paid Israeli sportsman of all time.
“We want to use this opportunity to expose the immense potential of Guangzhou to Israeli journalists, and via the journalists, to the business sector and the public at large,” says Gleitman. “It’s a really interesting story. I can tell you now that you will be surprised by Guangzhou, and how developed it is. It’s really a very sophisticated city. This is the Chinese version of Manhattan, but it’s much greener.”
Gleitman notes that GIBF is a unique and independent Sino-Israel fund of approximately $100m., and since January 2017 the fund has established five new companies in Guangzhou together with top Israeli companies in life sciences. In each of these companies, GIBF has invested a significant amount of $3m.-$8m. As for the Guangzhou Innovation Office, he says, “Our main goal is to encourage cooperation and trade between Israeli and Guangzhou-based companies in various fields of technology, science and innovation. Together with the local government, we work on building the appropriate business platforms that will enable Israeli companies to penetrate the Chinese market and enjoy its hunger for technology and innovation.”
“China will become the largest economy of the world in 10 years,” says Gleitman. “The way to this achievement is going through major changes in the Chinese – moving from a manufacturing capacity economy to one based on innovation.  This presents a major opportunity for the Israeli economy. Israel has a great image in China and there is a great will for cooperation. We have an amazing window of opportunity to utilize our added value, and by doing so, improving our economy significantly.” 
From Israel’s point of view, the flights to and from Guangzhou are “a win-win situation,” says Hainan Airlines. Some 113,000 Chinese tourists visited Israel last year, 46% more than the previous year. Now, with a total of 10 weekly direct flights operated by Hainan Airlines to Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou, tourism is expected to soar. For Israelis, the increased competition and frequency of flights means that prices are also expected to become more attractive.
The initial price of an economy-class ticket on the 787-900 Dreamliner from Ben-Gurion Airport to Guangzhou, starting August 2, is $622. “Our prices are very competitive in all classes, and are the best in the market when taking into consideration the fact that Hainan Airlines was recently ranked the eighth best airline in the world,” says Jonathan Bental, deputy general manager of Hainan Airlines Israel.
Gleitman, who spends a third of his time in Guangzhou and flies there 14 times a year, says one really needs to visit it in order to really appreciate the city in particular and China in general. “I read a lot in newspapers and economic journals, and I read a lot of nonsense. On the one hand, China is very large and seems to move slowly, but on the other, it seems to be changing at a rapid pace. I can’t explain it, but I find this a most exciting process.”
The writer is a guest of the Guangzhou Innovation Office in Tel Aviv and Hainan Airlines.