Thursday, February 19, 2004

State looks to tap
China outbound travelers

More than 1 million Chinese visitors travel to the United States each year, but only about 3 percent or 4 percent of them stop in Hawaii.

State of Hawaii With China projected to be the fourth largest source of outbound travel in the world by 2020, travel industry professionals and business leaders met yesterday to discuss how Hawaii can better capture its share.

The state plans to increase the inflow of business and vacation travelers from China by lobbying for improved security and entrance procedures and launching a tourism plan targeted to this niche market, said Frank Haas, vice president of marketing for the Hawaii Tourism Authority.

A growing number of countries have relaxed their visa requirements for Chinese visitors. Hawaii's tourism industry can't afford to let visa restrictions, flight problems or negative publicity interfere with its ability to grow this market, said Marsha Wienert, Gov. Linda Lingle's tourism liaison.

Lingle, who plans to meet with Washington officials next week to work on Hawaii's security and visa impediments, will carry the message that tighter security must be weighed against economic development, Wienert said.

Lingle has joined other states in asking for the creation of multiple-entry visas for visits to the United States. She is also seeking more resources for processing visas, and a way to fast-track visa applications found to contain minor mistakes, Wienert said.

Tourism officials also have hired Marketing Garden Ltd. to promote Hawaii in other Asian countries, primarily China, South Korea and Taiwan, Haas said. The firm, which has offices in Shanghai, Taipei, Tokyo and Seoul, will use market research to create a standard image of Hawaii's destination market that appeals to Chinese visitor, he said.

Members of the tourism industry also are hoping these measures will inspire airlines to offer more direct flights to Hawaii, said Henry Ou, president of the Hawaii Chinese Tourism Association, who said tourism can't grow unless more airline seats are made available.

The state's efforts are aimed at making the visa application process run more smoothly for countries such as China and Korea that send a small number of visitors to the state, but have huge potential for growth.

China, a country of 1.3 billion people, sent 38,923 visitors to Hawaii in 2002, while South Korea sent 48,174 visitors. The markets each represented less than 1 percent of Hawaii's total visitors days in 2002, but they are expected to hold long-term potential. China is expected to have 100 million outbound tourists by 2020, according to the World Tourism Organization.

Despite the negative impact of SARS, the war on Iraq and other geopolitical problems, state officials have predicted tourism from Asian countries outside of Japan will grow up to 5 percent this year, Wienert said. And while the cumbersome visa process presents challenges, China's outbound travel market to Hawaii is already increasing, Ou said.

In July, the state will host the first annual Asia Pacific Conference, which will bring 500 tourism people from China and 300 from the U.S. mainland, he said. "We need to make Honolulu the gathering place for all Asia tourists," Ou said.

The state is working to ensure that conference attendees are able to enter Hawaii with ease, Wienert said.


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