Nova Scotia secures 2 direct charter flights from China

Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil is hoping two direct charter flights from China next year are the first of many to come.

In late September and early October of 2020, flights carrying as many as 271 tourists each will travel directly from the city of Guangzhou to Halifax via China Southern Airlines. The passengers will have the option to buy travel packages that would see them also visit parts of New Brunswick and P.E.I. while in Canada.

McNeil said it's his hope that if the two trips go well, it will lead to more charters and ultimately help make the case for a direct commercial flight between China and Atlantic Canada, something he's been working on for four years.

"Oftentimes Transport Canada looks at the central part of our country and looks at [the] West Coast when it comes to the Asia market," he told reporters in Halifax on Thursday.

"We need them to look at providing us with an opportunity to have a direct flight into Atlantic Canada.

McNeil said the previously announced air access fund will be used to backstop the venture, but he's not anticipating a need to tap into the money.

"We believe there's no question we'll sell out these flights."

Robert Short/CBC

Tourism Nova Scotia CEO Michele Saran said they're looking to China as a key part of efforts to grow the industry here and she believes "Nova Scotia is the next hot spot for the Chinese visitor."

Saran said it would be her hope to eventually have charters twice a week from May until the end of October each year. Canada saw 1.6 million inbound visitors from China in 2019. Saran said the goal is to get more of those people coming to Atlantic Canada and she believes the charters represent a big step toward that effort.

Tourism Nova Scotia has set a goal of growing the number of tourists from China to Nova Scotia from the 2018 total of 5,000 to 50,000 by 2024. It's a challenging goal, said Saran, but one she believes is possible.

Although the federal government has issued a travel advisory for people going to China, McNeil said he doesn't have any safety concerns about the area they are targeting.

"If my children wanted to go, I'd be more than happy to send them to China," he said.

"Where we're going into — Guangzhou — is a very metropolitan part of China. It's an extraordinary city and the region provides Nova Scotians and Canadians with, I believe, a wonderful taste of Chinese culture."

A 'bizarre' choice

He noted that many Canadian business people continue to go back and forth freely between the two countries without issue and McNeil said Nova Scotia needs to be involved.

"Our national governments will solve the issues associated between our two national governments, but at the same time we need to continue this partnership to grow the economic fortunes of our citizens."

China continues to hold Canadian citizens Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig on what are widely believed to be arbitrary grounds as retaliation for Canada detaining Huawei chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou.

Tory Leader Tim Houston said "it's bizarre" for McNeil to be promoting tourism with China while the federal government has a travel advisory in place.

"It's kind of a bit surprising, I guess, the way they continue to be all in on that particular file."

Houston said the province should instead focus on targeting other markets.

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