Mike DiCarlo has a bold prediction: In just a few short years, the number of tourists visiting Boston from China annually will outnumber the city’s population.
“We’re talking more than 600,000 visitors by 2020,” said DiCarlo, executive vice president of Attract China LLC, a Boston-based travel marketing company.
Never mind that that would be more than four times the current number of Chinese tourists coming to Boston. DiCarlo has reasons for his optimism: the launch Friday of the new air service between Boston and Beijing by Hainan Airlines.
“It’s going to be huge,” said Pat Moscaritolo, chief executive of the Greater Boston Convention and Visitors Bureau. “We’re going to get the wealthier, higher-end, more independent travelers who like to stay four or five days and shop.”
The new nonstop flight comes as business relations between Massachusetts and China have already soared, and local executives, economists, and political leaders predict that trade between the two regions will now only get much larger.
Exports from Massachusetts to China have more than tripled in the past decade, to $1.97 billion in 2013, making China the second largest buyer of products made in the state, according to WiserTrade.org, which tracks international trade. In the same period, Chinese travelers to Boston more than quadrupled, according to Moscaritolo’s organization, to about 150,000 last year.
And now, if it’s easier and faster to get to and from Beijing, Boston companies that do business in China might find more opportunities to increase sales.
The nonstop flight “just increases efficiencies — saving time and improving communications,” said William Teuber, vice chairman of Hopkinton’s EMC Corp.
EMC has major operations and business activities in China, and Teuber himself travels to Asia several times a year. “It’s going to be great for Boston and any company trying to export to China. Not just for big companies, but smaller companies as well. It’s going to help business.”
Even before the first flight, heavy demand for seats on the Boston-Beijing service prompted Hainan to expand its proposed service from four flights a week to one every day during its peak season in late July and August.
Some flights are already 75 percent booked, and Hainan expects the late summer trips to be nearly full.
“We studied this a lot before launching this flight, and the numbers are pretty much meeting our expectations,” said Joel Chusid, Hainan executive director for North America.
And the expanded connections to China might not end with just the Beijing flights. The Massachusetts Port Authority said it is in discussions with other airlines about adding flights from Shanghai and Hong Kong to Logan.
“We work closely with the business and political leaders to provide the services that are needed, and having Hainan fly nonstop between Boston and Beijing will be a catalyst,” Massport chief executive Thomas P. Glynn said.
Massport has been aggressively courting new nonstop service with other international destinations, recently adding direct service to Istanbul, Dubai, and Tokyo.
Still the underlying driver of improved trade between Massachusetts and China is the simple fact that each has what the other wants.
“It’s an economic marriage made in heaven,” said Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics. “China and the US economies are now tied at the hip, but it’s even more so in Boston.”
Boston area companies want access to China’s huge and vibrant market for its products and services, as well as its massive pool of lower-cost workers to make those products. In turn, China wants access to Boston’s prestigious higher-education schools and its booming technology sector.
Indeed, the top export products to China are high-end machinery for manufacturing, computers, and electronic items, and medical devices and pharmaceutical products, according to WiserTrade.org data. And when Chinese companies can’t import tech products, they buy them outright; in 2012, Wanxiang Corp. spent $256 million to purchase the assets of the then-bankrupt A123 Systems, the former Waltham-based maker of car batteries.
Chinese investors also see opportunity in Boston’s strong real estate market.
Jessica Ye, a broker at Keller Williams Realty in Cambridge, said Chinese buyers often use cash to purchase properties, either as investments or as homes for themselves or their children; the Boston area has more than 13,000 Chinese students attending schools here.
“Five years ago, I used to do one or two deals a year with international buyers,” said Ye, a native of China who moved to the United States when she was 10. “Last year, I sold 70 homes, about a third of them to Chinese and international immigrants.”
A few weeks ago, Ye was at a conference in Beijing pitching real-estate investment opportunities in the Boston area and said attendees were already excited about the new direct flights to Boston.
The Hainan service “is going to be really huge,” said Ye, who is also the founder and president of the Boston chapter of the Asian Real Estate Association of America.
Harvard Business School professor F. Warren McFarlan is also looking forward to the Hainan flight. Co-author of the new book “Can China Lead? Reaching the Limits of Power and Growth,” he teaches at Tsinghua University in Beijing.
“I make about seven or eight trips a year to China,” McFarlan said. “Door to door, this new flight is going to knock the travel time down from 24 hours to about 16 to 17 hours. That’s a lot of time saved.”