China-Vancouver air travel is soaring, despite B.C.’s foreign homebuyers tax

With the addition of a sixth Chinese airline, “YVR now has more mainland Chinese carriers than any airport in North America or Europe.”

Beijing Capital Airlines Airbus A330

A Beijing Capital Airlines Airbus A330 taxis before takeoff at Vancouver International Airport in early January 2017. (Bayne Stanley/CP)

British Columbia may have pulled up the welcome mat for Chinese home buyers with a 15% tax on purchases by foreigners, but the number of flights to Vancouver from China just keeps climbing. On Dec. 30, Beijing Capital Airlines launched a new service between Vancouver, Quingdao and Hangzhou. That brings to six the number of airlines from the People’s Republic now serving the Canadian gateway.

“YVR now has more mainland Chinese carriers than any airport in North America and Europe–more than Heathrow, Paris, L.A., Chicago and San Francisco,” Vancouver Airport Authority president and CEO Craig Richmond said in an address to the Vancouver Board of Trade Jan. 18, when he unveiled plans for a $5.6-billion airport expansion.

Capacity between Vancouver and Chinese destinations rose 25% in 2016 to 1.4 million seats. And once Hong Kong Airlines begins service in July, capacity to China, Hong Kong and Taiwan together will have gone up 46% in 18 months. Beijing Capital joins Xiamen Airlines, Sichuan Airlines, China Southern, China Eastern and Air China (along with Air Canada) in serving routes between Vancouver and nine Chinese destinations.

Richmond attributes the surge in trans-Pacific air travel to continued growth of the Chinese economy and middle class. “There are more and more people travelling from what we would call secondary cities—though it’s hard to use that term when you’re talking about cities that have nine or 10 million people,” he said in an interview following his speech. “These cities are coming alive with travellers.”

Richmond also credited Canada’s visa-free travel provision that allows Chinese passengers with a U.S. visa to make flight connections through Canadian airports. “Vancouver is just known as a Chinese-friendly airport and city,” he said.

As for the 15% property transfer tax on foreign buyers, considered the primary cause of the drop-off in the Vancouver real estate market over the past six months, Richmond said, “we haven’t seen any decrease at all.”