U.S.-Chinese pact to boost tourism
STORY SUMMARY »
Hawaii is expected to benefit from an agreement signed by the United States and China that will facilitate Chinese group leisure travel to the U.S.
Annual visitor arrivals in Hawaii from China:
* Through June
Source: State Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism
The agreement, signed Tuesday at the U.S.-China Joint Commission on Commerce and Trade, is expected to take effect this spring. When the agreement is in place, Chinese travel agencies will be allowed to work with U.S. companies to organize and market packaged group leisure tours to the United States. In addition, U.S. travel destinations, like Hawaii, will be able to market their brands in China.
In the past, Chinese tourism to the U.S. was severely stunted by policy that prohibited Chinese nationals from visiting the U.S. unless on business or pursuing educational enterprise. Tourism officials anticipate that by 2011 - three years after the agreement is in place - Chinese visitation to the U.S. will reach 579,000, thereby boosting tourism-related exports. Momentum from this market is good news for visitor industries in Hawaii and the U.S., both of which have been battling lowered international visitor counts since 2001.
Last year, Hawaii captured 54,318, or approximately 17 percent, of the 320,000 or so Chinese visitors who came to the U.S. for business.
FULL STORY »
China has signed a tourism agreement with the United States that will make it easier for Chinese visitors to spend some of the gains from their booming economy on vacations in Hawaii.
Hawaii has been eyeing China as a potentially significant source market for tourism and business for some time, but travel restrictions blocked the development of those relationships. While some Chinese individuals and groups traveling on business or for educational purposes had been able to obtain approval to visit the U.S., group leisure travel was restricted to those countries that had bilateral agreements with China.
A new agreement, signed Tuesday in Beijing by officials from the U.S. and China at the U.S.-China Joint Commission on Commerce and Trade, is expected to foster more opportunities for business between the two countries. The agreement, which could take effect as early as this spring, will facilitate group leisure travel between China and the U.S. and permit U.S. destinations and businesses to advertise their brands in China.
"(The) agreement will open a large and growing market for the U.S. travel and tourism industry," U.S. Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez said. "This creates positive economic benefits for the United States and strengthens the relationship between our nations. Now more Chinese visitors have an opportunity to experience America's hospitality, cultural diversity and natural beauty."
Hawaii, along with the rest of the U.S. visitor industry, will benefit from the change in policy, said Ted Liu, head of the state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism. Hawaii officials, business executives and some of the state's top entertainers have long been courting China, a country that in terms of tourism is seen as something of a sleeping giant, Liu said.
"Clearly, this agreement is a breakthrough," Liu said. "They've opened the gate. How wide is this gate? Frankly, we don't know. The devil will be in the details, but whatever happens, there is no question in my mind that this is a step forward."
While Hawaii hosted only 54,318 visitors from China last year, tourism officials expect to see strong market growth after the agreement takes effect, said state Tourism Liaison Marsha Wienert.
"Hawaii expects that China will become an integral part of our group leisure travel market," Wienert said.
The World Tourism Organization has forecast that China will supply 100 million outbound tourists by 2020, and almost every destination, including Hawaii, wants some of that market share.
"If you look at the wealth in China right now, there's a large percentage of their population that has the means and the desire to travel," Wienert said, adding that there has even been some research that indicates Chinese visitors could be among Hawaii's next big spenders.
According to the Travel Industry Association of America, Chinese citizens spend more on average during their stay than visitors from other countries. In 2006, average per-visitor spending by Chinese citizens traveling to the United States was more than $6,000.
For several years, Hawaii has been aggressively pursuing measures that would better position the state to capitalize on China's potential as a major source market for consumers and tourists. The 2004 opening of an official Hawaii tourism office in Beijing was seen as the first step in the state's quest to achieve approved destination status from China, Liu said.
The opening helped Hawaii's public and private sectors get a firmer foothold in the coveted market; however, it could not prevent a number of event cancellations due to visa difficulties and restrictions on official travel from China to Hawaii, he said.
Although Chinese visitors traveling to Hawaii or the U.S. mainland will still need a visa to visit, the latest agreement between the two countries is expected to create a more supportive framework for tourism expansion.
It is too soon for Hawaii to determine how much additional visitor traffic it will see as a result of the agreement. However, Chinese visitation to the U.S. is forecast to reach 579,000 by 2011, an 81 percent increase from 2006 levels, Wienert said.
Since Hawaii is strategically located between the U.S. mainland and China, the islands should be able to capture a portion of pre- and post-trip traffic between the two countries, she said.
Moving forward, Hawaii will have to redouble efforts to improve visa processing and convince airlines to provide lift to the destination, Liu said.
But getting China's leisure travelers to visit Hawaii is only half the battle, Liu said. Hawaii's visitor industry still has to put infrastructure in place that keeps them coming back, he said.
"It's striking the amount of Mandarin being spoken on the streets of Waikiki right now, and that's only going to increase," Liu said. "We need more signage, and we need to work on our language skills."