What is the best city for a stopover on the way to Europe?

The end of this month marks the second anniversary of the Qantas and Emirates alliance, which redrew the travel map for Australians heading to London and Europe.

I've made several trips to London via Hong Kong, and it's safe to say that it's now my favourite city for a stop-over en route to Europe.

That historic hookup put Dubai at the centre of the Flying Kangaroo's international network, signalling a notional end to the familiar Singapore stopover en route to London.

Of course, it's not all about London and it hasn't been for some time. Plenty of other European cities are drawcards for Australia's business travellers, and it makes little sense to dive headlong into Heathrow unless the UK is your first port of call.

That's why the most trumpeted benefit of the Qantas-Emirates alliance was that it put over 30 European destinations – including a half-dozen in the UK alone – just one stop away from Emirates' hub in Dubai.

Ditching Dubai

But in the past two years, I'm hearing from an increasing number of people who've ditched Dubai – and, by default, Qantas – and gone back to an Asian city stopover.

Hong Kong is growing in popularity as a pivot-point for flights to Europe, alongside stalwart Singapore.

One factor in their favour is that most Australian capital cities have direct flights – often several flights per day – to Singapore and Hong Kong, courtesy of Singapore Airlines and Cathay Pacific.

On top of that there's the added variety of Bangkok via Thai Airways and Kuala Lumpur on Malaysia Airlines, although on just about every measure both cities run a very distant second to Singapore and Hong Kong.


Hong Kong hop

Hong Kong enjoys the added appeal of letting business travellers break their journey to zip across the Chinese border to Shenzhen and visit suppliers in the commercial hub of the Pearl River Delta manufacturing zone.

Cathay Pacific is certainly seeing growth in a Kangaroo Route via Hong Kong, with the airline set to add a second large Boeing 777-300ER onto the Sydney-Hong Kong route from October 1 to cater for increased demand.

The majority of Cathay's Australian passengers fly onwards from Hong Kong, says the airline's regional general manager Nelson Chin.

"Hong Kong is a stable market for us," Chin tells High Flyer. "The growth in the market is beyond Hong Kong, into Europe and China. It's very much the connectivity to the other 22 destinations we fly to."

Chin tips that Melbourne could be next for the bump to a Boeing 777 or even the airline's next-generation Airbus A350 from 2016.

Top of the stopovers

I've made several trips to London via Hong Kong, and it's safe to say that it's now my favourite city for a stop-over en route to Europe.

By 'stop-over' I mean something more than three hours in the airport, because you can while those away in any decent lounge.

However, on that score alone Hong Kong has plenty of lounges to choose from, including several boutique bolt-holes from Cathay Pacific along with the excellent Qantas Hong Kong Lounge.

Another win is that the Airport Express train can whisk you into the heart of Hong Kong in less than 30 minutes, adding an attractive option if you have more than a handful of hours between flights.

More than once I've engineered my flight schedule to give me almost an entire day between arriving into Hong Kong Airport and jetting onwards to Europe, specifically so that I can hit the city for meetings, food, shopping and a general wander-around.

So this week, High Flyer is taking a snap poll on the business travellers' favourite stop-over cities.

Is Dubai still doing it for you, or do you head for Hong Kong, Singapore or some other city en route to Europe?

David Flynn is a business travel expert and editor of Australian Business Traveller.

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