HALIFAX -- Two years of direct negotiation has led to the anticipated arrival in Halifax next fall of two charter flights from China that could help the province secure regularly scheduled air service.

Premier Stephen McNeil said Thursday that China Southern Airlines will send two passenger jets carrying "hundreds of tourists" from the city of Guangzhou. The travellers will have the option to buy tour packages that would see them visit Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island.

McNeil, who recently completed his eighth trip to China as premier since 2013, said the securing of the flights makes sense despite an ongoing federal advisory for Canadians travelling to the country.

"We don't see it as an issue at all," McNeil said of the advisory, which recommends they exercise a "high degree of caution" due to the risk of arbitrary enforcement of local laws.

"I have been in and out of China and I've said this many times -- if my children wanted to go, I'd be more than happy to send them to China."

McNeil said he doesn't have any safety concerns about Guangdong province, which is the area of China that has been the focus of his business dealings.

"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."

Canadian businesses have continued to thrive in China despite tensions between the two countries, McNeil said.

Those tensions have been high since December 2018, when RCMP arrested Chinese tech executive Meng Wanzhou at Vancouver's airport at the request of the United States. Two Canadians were subsequently detained in China on allegations of undermining its national security.

"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," said McNeil.

He said if the charter flights are a success, it will help secure more charters and ultimately a direct commercial flight between China and Atlantic Canada.

The Nova Scotia government has a goal of attracting 50,000 Chinese visitors annually by 2024. Those figures currently stand at about 5,000.

Michele Saran, CEO of Tourism Nova Scotia, said the goal is to have charter flights twice a week from May until the end of October each year.

"It's going to be a challenge," Saran said of meeting the tourism target.

"Our hope is that this pilot is so successful that it will lead to more regular charters ... and the visitation will go exponentially from there. So we do believe it's possible."

The flights announced Thursday are expected to carry up to 271 tourists on a Boeing 787-9.

The Nova Scotia government has a multi-million dollar fund meant to mitigate the risks of such travel ventures, but McNeil said it likely wouldn't be needed for the China flights.

"We believe we will have no issue in selling them out," he said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 5, 2019.