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Passengers push their luggage through the international arrivals hall at Beijing Capital International Airport on Jan. 8. China is relaxing strict travel rules that had been in place during the COVID-19 pandemic.THOMAS PETER/Reuters

Beijing’s decision to relax pandemic-related travel restrictions on its citizens has sparked excitement among Canadian restaurants, hotels, tour operators and others who cater to China’s deep-pocketed tourists, but the rebound in travel from China is unlikely to be quick.

While the flow of tourists from other parts of the world to Canada has largely recovered to prepandemic levels, at least when measured by passengers arriving from overseas by air, the number of leisure travellers from China in December was roughly 55 per cent below where it was for the same period in 2019.

A test will come later this month when Chinese celebrate the first Lunar New Year under the new rules, which did away with mandatory quarantines for international arrivals as of Jan. 8, a requirement that kept many Chinese homebound.

A spokesperson for the Vancouver Airport Authority said during the holiday it expects 34 weekly flights between Vancouver and “Greater China” (which includes China, Hong Kong and Taiwan). That’s up from last year’s high of 16 flights, but far below the prepandemic level of 75 flights a week.

The stakes are high. Chinese tourists spent an average of $2,900 during trips to Canada in 2019, a higher level than travellers from any other country, according to Destination Canada, generating roughly $2-billion in tourism spending that year.