LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — Sunday marks both the beginning of the Chinese New Year (CNY) and the return of large valley celebrations after health restrictions condensed them throughout the pandemic.

But, even with those restrictions gone, new ones could impact international travel.

Las Vegas Asian Chamber of Commerce Board Member, Michelle Chen, called the holiday one of the largest drivers of spending in the valley’s local Asian communities. Gift-giving is a large part of the 15 days of festivities.

This weekend, celebrations return to the Historic Chinatown Plaza for the first time since even before the pandemic began in 2020. Friday morning, John Chou was preparing his restaurant, Noodle Pot, for the anticipated influx of customers attending the festivities outside his front door.

“(It’s) crowded. You cannot even drive through,” Chou said while pointing to the parking lot that will be closed off for the celebrations. “It does help us to draw more people here, and the more people (who) know about us, the more people know what’s in this Chinatown mall.”

Chou isn’t the only one preparing.

Casinos both on and off the strip are hoping to attract the crowds by targeting their marketing to celebrators. Chen added that several casinos have scheduled performers throughout the holiday.

Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) Chamber of Commerce Cofounder, Jennie Kim, said over half a million people in the Las Vegas valley are considered Asian. She expects between 8,000 to 10,000 visitors to the Historic Chinatown Plaza this weekend alone.

But recently, a negative COVID-19 testing requirement dropped for those traveling from the People’s Republic of China as infections and deaths there rise. Kim acknowledges the requirement forced several businesses from that country to pull out of last week’s Consumer Electronics Show, which historically brings thousands of natives to Las Vegas.

“I think for CES, we had some challenges from our Chinese business owners that weren’t able to make it,” Kim said inside the mall Friday afternoon. “I think most of the people (for this weekend) are going to be either driving or flying in and they’re going to be locals. So, once they see how successful (the celebration) is, then we will incorporate overseas travel.”

Another concern standing in the way: xenophobia. The Las Vegas City Council addressed this during Wednesday night’s meeting.

“It’s worth embracing all of our cultural diversity here in the City of Las Vegas, but particularly for our AAPI community who have suffered the backlash of racism and (were) targeted after COVID-19 for something that they weren’t responsible for,” Councilmember Olivia Diaz said during the meeting.

Instead, businesses and community leaders are choosing to focus on what the year of the rabbit will hold.

“We just want everybody to feel like this is part of your community,” Kim said. “We’ve always been so segmented, even in our Asian culture. Korean culture, Chinese, Philipino, and different cultures. What we want to do this year is to bring all of our cultures together, and represent them on stage so we can all collaborate and benefit from the mass.”

“We always like that people can live together, wherever you’re coming from. You know what I’m saying? So peaceful here,” Chou said.

A full list of CNY celebrations in the Las Vegas Valley can be found here.