Two years after Chengdu Shuangliu International Airport hosted the 2016 edition, World Routes returns to China in September for its 24th annual event. This global forum for the route development community will see senior decision-makers from airlines, airports, tourism authorities and suppliers meeting to shape the future of the world’s air services, working together to negotiate existing routes and to develop new ones.

This year, World Routes will take place in the charming metropolis of Guangzhou, hosted by the Guangdong Airport Authority – the operator of the thirdbusiest airport in China and one of the world’s fastest-growing hubs.

Held on Pazhou Island on 15-18 September with 3,000 delegates from 110 countries, the event will host 13,000 face-to-face meetings between stakeholders, along with a conference programme, exhibition and networking events, plus the opportunity to experience some of the delights the Guangdong Province of China has to offer. Confirmed attendees so far include Delta Airlines, Air Asia, Qatar Airways and Lufthansa, among others.

Industry experts will take to the stage and deliver talks to provide an insight into key air service development issues driving change and outline future opportunities within the industry. Routes events have attracted speakers including the likes of Willie Walsh, CEO of IAG; Skúli Mogensen, CEO and founder of WOW Air; and Alex Cruz, CEO and chairman of British Airways among others. In total, more than 80 speakers, 300 airlines, 700 airports and 130 tourism authorities are expected to attend and make World Routes 2018 one of the biggest route development events ever.

Guangdong Airport Authority won a competitive selection process in order to host this year’s event and the timing could not have been better, as this year could see the hub exceed ten million international seats. 2018 also sees the launch of the Authority’s new global strategy to connect with the world, which includes the opening of a new $2.7 billion terminal. The city’s initiative, dubbed ‘2018: Global Conversations between Guangzhou and the World’, aims to usher in a new era of foreign investment and collaboration, ultimately aiming to seat 100 million passengers by 2025. Guangzhou’s second terminal went live 26 April 2018, and the first four carriers to operate out of it were Xiamen Airlines, Saudia, Garuda Indonesia and Kenya Airways. China Southern Airlines is to anchor the terminal and will begin its operations from there in phases.

Artificial intelligence

Terminal 2, which has 20 self-service outbound channels and another 30 inbound channels, will feature artificial intelligence measures, including echannels and a facial recognition system, to raise efficiency and simplify exit and entry procedure.

The airport authorities have projected that the 880,700m² terminal will handle about 45 million passengers a year by 2020. Following additional phases of development over the following five years, the airport will be transformed into a five-runway, three-terminal operation that can handle 62,000 flights, 100 million passengers and three million tons of cargo a year by 2025. This will be needed, as Guangzhou expects a healthy economic growth of 7.5% in 2018, following a 13% rise in the total volume of imports and exports last year.

Guangzhou’s existing terminal, which has been in operation since 2004, has capacity for 35 million passengers annually but handled about 64.7 million passengers in 2017, according to preliminary figures from Sabre. This placed it as the third busiest in China – behind Beijing Capital (98.4 million) and Shanghai Pudong (71.8 million) – and 14th in the world overall.

However, the new terminal is likely to help Guangzhou overtake its neighbour, Hong Kong, which is only two hours away by train, as the main air hub in the Pearl River Delta. In 2017, Hong Kong handled 72 million passengers, according to the same Sabre data.

Guangzhou has been an important trade centre for 2,000 years due to its strategic position on the South China Sea. Its favourable location and economic strength has helped the Guangdong province to maintain its status as the richest province in China for the past three decades.

A key part of this global connectivity strategy is hosting World Routes 2018 which Sun Xiuqing, chairman of Guangzhou Aerotropolis Development District, highlighted to the World Economic Forum conference.

“World Routes is the only truly global event in the civil aviation industry calendar in which most of the senior decision makers from the world’s airlines, airports, governments and tourism authorities participate,” said Sun.

By hosting the conference, Guangzhou is aiming to build on the remarkable growth in connectivity achieved in recent years. New carriers to start services include Scoot, Thai Lion Air and Malindo Air, while Finnair’s Helsinki- Vantaa service launched in 2016.

The city’s Land Resources and Planning Commission confirmed more details of a second airport planned for Guangzhou. The commission said it was aiming to create a “strategic triangle” of three major hubs, one of which will include the new airport to be constructed in the eastern district of Zengcheng. It will reportedly be called Guangzhou Zhengguo International Airport.

A cultural city

Delegates attending World Routes 2018 can make the most of their time in China and experience the city of Guangzhou, as well as the wider Guangdong region. A mix of shining towers and quaint treelined streets, Guangzhou has a long history of wealth and cultural diversity, which derives from its extensive trading links. The food scene here is lively, with locals claiming dim sum as a speciality of the region. Cantonese-style food – known the world over, takes its name from the Portuguese naming of the region. The city mixes avant-garde architecture, such as Zaha Hadid’s Guangzhou Opera House, with contemporary architecture, such as the monolithic box-shaped Guangdong Museum, and the iconic Canton TV Tower skyscraper.

The hosts have put together a choice of complimentary tours that will allow delegates to experience highlights of the area, such as the natural beauty of Baiyun Mountain, the peaceful colonialera island of Shamian, the fascinating 2,000-year-old tomb of the Nanyue king, Zhao Mo, and a cruise along the Pearl River. Attendees of World Routes 2018 are sure to have a rewarding and memorable time in this unique city.