Swiss Weighs Geneva-Beijing Route as Rolex Draws Tourists

Swiss International Air Lines Ltd. is exploring services on the Geneva-Beijing route as the entry of Air China Ltd. opens up potential for a code-share partnership.

Demand is being driven by a surge in the number of Chinese citizens vacationing in Europe, Chief Executive Officer Harry Hohmeister said. Geneva offers visitors a combination of Alpine scenery and luxury shopping, with the city home to watchmakers including Rolex Group and Patek Philippe SA.

“The Chinese market is growing fast, faster than any other country,” Hohmeister said in a Geneva interview. “The Chinese also spend a lot as tourists.”

Swiss is initially looking at a cooperation deal with Air China, to which it’s linked via membership of the Star Alliance, he said. A code-share accord would allow it to sell tickets on the Asian carrier’s flights as if they were its own.

Swiss, a unit of Germany’s Deutsche Lufthansa AG, already serves Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong from Zurich, while Air China begins flights from Beijing in May.

Europe will be among the top destinations for the 94 million people from mainland China expected to travel abroad by 2015, according to McKinsey & Co. The Chinese account for 25 percent of luxury spending, up from 10 percent three years ago, HSBC Global Research said in a September report, and buy about half of all watches, according to Kepler Capital Markets.

At Swiss, intercontinental routes are operating with about 90 percent of seats occupied, Hohmeister said, helping to maintain its standing as Lufthansa’s most-profitable unit.

While the headcount may not continue to grow as fast as it once did, Swiss will add workers through 2015, he said.