Beijing Mayor Wang Qishan presented a small gift to Lt. Gov. James "Duke" Aiona during a visit to Honolulu on June 5. State officials say the presence of a Hawaii state office in Beijing sponsored by the Chinese government has helped spark an increase in official visits from China.
Hawaii polishes its image in China
A satellite state office helps promote travel and business deals
BEIJING » For travelers passing through China's capital airport, the feeling of aloha is unmistakable in at least one spot inside the domestic terminal.
At Gate 27, arriving and departing passengers are greeted with the huge image of a hibiscus stretched across the sign of one kiosk advertising a Hawaiian Lei Cafe.
A quick tour around the city yields similar hints of Hawaii.
Whether it is the pineapple-and-ham selection offered at a Beijing Pizza Hut, a flower lei touching up a storefront, macadamia nuts and Kona coffee in the grocery store or a dashboard hula doll being hawked in a subway tunnel near Tiananmen Square, there is a noticeable awareness of the islands in China.
But just like anywhere else, when people here think of Hawaii, thoughts turn to soaking in the sun on a white-sand beach while gentle waves caress the shore.
Just ask Bo Wu.
As executive director of Hawaii's Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism office in Beijing, he is largely responsible for changing that perception.
"If you're walking the streets in Beijing or Shanghai -- those big cities -- you talk to anybody and ask them the question, What do you think of Hawaii?
"Their understanding of Hawaii is as a top-end destination -- a place for leisure," says Wu. "Actually, we're more than that.
"We're strong in (research and development), we're strong in agriculture, we're strong in education, we're strong in destination management and planning. People can come here not only to do holidays -- we can also do business."
For the past several years, Wu has worked with the Hawaii agency in building relations with the Chinese government.
Those efforts got a boost in September 2004 when Hawaii become only the second state -- after Nevada -- to receive formal approval from the Chinese government to open a business and tourism promotion office.
The Beijing DBEDT office, with an annual operating budget of about $90,000, serves as an official liaison with the China National Tourism Administration and other agencies, as Hawaii aims to tap into a tourist market expected to grow significantly in the coming years.
Hawaii officials also hope to help island businesses gain a foothold in China, utilizing the Beijing office and establishing ties through trade missions such as the one led by Gov. Linda Lingle last summer.
"I think our role is more in governmental relations," Wu, 45, said of the Beijing office. "Up to now we've kept good relations with several governmental agencies."
The office itself operates out of a few hundred square feet on the sixth floor of a downtown office tower, sporting all the familiar signs of the islands, including the colorful "Hawaii" sign and state seal that welcome visitors.
Its staff consists solely of Wu and an administrative assistant, Jennifer Jia, who came on board in early May.
But just having the office already has paid dividends for Hawaii, said Ted Liu, director of the Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism.
"Having a physical presence there is much more efficient and effective than trying to pull things off the Internet or trying to do things by remote," Liu said. "There's no substitute for having somebody on the ground, both from a relationship-building perspective and also with specific projects we want to pursue."
Liu is quick to note that efforts to promote Hawaii in China were pushed under the Cayetano administration but were limited in scope without having the backing of the Chinese government as they do now.
Good relations with governmental agencies in China also has led to more visits to Hawaii by upper-level officials, Liu said, including an April visit by Vice Premier Wu Yi and Shao Qiwei, chairman of the China National Tourism Administration. During that visit, Lingle and Shao signed an agreement aimed at increasing tourism between Hawaii and China.
"Having a presence with Bo in Beijing has helped us move the needle on activity," Liu said.
Earlier this month, Beijing Mayor Wang Qishan stopped in Honolulu on his way back to China from a conference on the U.S. mainland. He met with Lt. Gov. James "Duke" Aiona, and the two discussed how China and Hawaii are preparing for the influx of visitors and athletes to the Asia-Pacific region in the run-up to the 2008 Summer Olympic Games in Beijing, Aiona's office said.
With the opening ceremonies scheduled for Aug. 8, 2008, Hawaii will not be alone in trying to attract visitors and help its companies and businesses get established in China.
But Hawaii is trying to position itself better than others.
DBEDT already has helped establish the Integrated Development Group, a partnership of businesses set up to develop strategies for competing in China. Meanwhile, the Hawaii Tourism Authority has partnered with Marketing Garden Inc. -- which has offices in China, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan -- to promote island tourism in Asia.
"We already have presence in China, which is good," Liu said. "The problem with the Beijing Olympics is it's heavily competitive -- everybody wants a piece.
"Us having Bo there, who's close to the tourism industry, is helpful."
Since it opened, Wu said, one of the Beijing office's main goals has been to link Hawaii companies with business partners and governmental authorities in China.
"We arrange the matchmaking," Wu said. "We do the due diligence, checking, finding the right partner for them. We work as a medium."
The office also promotes educational opportunities in Hawaii, but not just for students.
Training programs through the likes of Hawaii Pacific University and the University of Hawaii's Travel Industry Management School are popular among government officials and business leaders, who can come for specially tailored study programs lasting anywhere from a few days to several weeks, Wu said.
Such education and training opportunities, Wu said, will continue along with the efforts at increasing Hawaii's visibility in the world's most populous country.
As far as long-term goals, Liu said the office will adapt as it needs to, but for now there are no plans to expand the office.
"We're going to be opportunistic," Liu said. "We're going to develop the office as conditions in business merit."