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The predicted delays have created a quandary for the state, which must find a way to meet security requirements and maintain customer satisfaction, said Marsha Wienert, Linda Lingle's tourism liaison.
Already some international visitors have experienced up to two-hour delays, she said.
"It's an incredible challenge, but we're going to do everything that we can to keep wait times below an hour," Sawyer said, adding that the department has spent five months brainstorming with the state Department of Transportation and state tourism officials to reduce the effects on visitors.
>> Staffing all 52 Customs entry booths and calling back personnel who are in training or who have been loaned to other operations.But even with the above changes in place, it is going to be impossible to dramatically reduce wait times for international visitors, Sawyer said.
>> Adopting a seven-day work week to alleviate Sunday overtime issues so that Customs can have a full complement of workers each week.
>> Asking airlines to stagger arrival times so that all visitors are not arriving at the same time.
>> Converting three airport gates into visitor lounges to give waiting visitors a comfortable place to rest.
>> Launching an educational campaign to teach visitors about the process so that they can move through the lines faster.
"Even with 52 booths open, if four airlines come in all at the same time, there's no way that we'll be able to keep up," he said.
State Transportation Director Rodney Haraga is meeting with airport and security officials in Los Angles and San Francisco this week to find out how they have pared down wait times for international visitors to about 20 minutes, said Scott Ishikawa, transportation spokesman.
"We're going to do the best that we can do on our end to work with U.S. Customs to see what we can do to clear the time it takes to process passengers," Ishikawa said. "Making people feel welcome at the airport is our job -- it's all about customer service."
Increasing wait times for international visitors is a concern for Hawaii since the state's economy depends so much on these arrivals, Wienert said.
About 1.4 million international visitors have come to Hawaii since January, generating around $2 billion in revenues, she said.
The numbers are growing, up 15.3 percent from a year ago, but it is a fragile market with plenty of competition, and visitors might go elsewhere if they do not get the reception that they are looking for, she said.
"It's got to be a hospitable entry. To make people stand in line for a long time is not the first impression that we want from our world-class destination," Wienert said.
While most of Japan's visitor industry realizes the changes are coming, many will still look to the state to expedite the process, said Steve Kawagishi, chief executive officer of the Japan-Hawaii Travel Association.
"If it takes too long, it will have an adverse effect on visitors," Kawagishi said.
In some cases the procedure already has, said Marvin Chang, president of Dragon Tours, whose Chinese customers have already experienced a few hitches.
"There have been some complaints about waiting, and adding more passengers is just going to slow things down," Chang said.
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