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OTTAWA (Reuters) - Air Canada said on Thursday it plans to more flights between China and the two busiest Canadian hubs after Canada received "approved destination status," clearing the way for Chinese group tours to the country.
Canada's biggest airline said it will add daily, non-stop service from Toronto and Vancouver to Beijing and Shanghai on a year-round basis. Those routes operate only a few days each week outside the peak four-month summer travel season.
"We've been waiting for this for 10 years," said Air Canada Chief Operating Officer Duncan Dee in an interview. "The potential for this is really tremendous because of the size of the Chinese market."
The new tourism status represents a bright spot for the Canada's airline industry, which has been bruised by the recession and slumping demand in travel.
Last month, the Montreal-based carrier said that the worst was behind it and it was seeing green shoots.
"We're still seeing green shots emerge and I would...say this is more potential green shoots, because we need to go out and earn this traffic," Dee said.
The Canadian government said tourism could get a 50 percent boost from the new status. In 2008, 159,000 Chinese visitors came to Canada, up 5 percent from the previous year.
"We are the new kid on the block and our aim is to make Canada the new, hot destination for Chinese tourists," Dee said.
Excluding routes it acquired through acquisitions, Air Canada has flown to China for about 10 years.
Shares of Air Canada fell 2 percent amid broad declines for the transport sector. The stock lost 3 Canadian cents to close at C$1.22 on the Toronto Stock Exchange on Thursday.
Reporting by Susan Taylor