STAR-BULLETIN / 2006
Gov. Linda Lingle and Shao Qiwei, chairman of the China National Tourism Administration, signed a tourism agreement last year during a ceremony at Washington Place.
Hawaii is poised to capture a share of Chinese tourism
An agreement between China and the United States is expected to benefit Hawaii tourism.
Hawaii's tourism industry, in constant search of uninitiated visitors, could harvest a fresh crop if a new agreement between the United States and China plays out favorably.
With a potential of 100 million newly minted travelers expected through the next dozen years, China could fill a void of high-spending visitors left by a shrunken Japanese market. The local industry will need a strategy to capture its share, although it appears early efforts could give the islands an edge.
The tourism agreement, signed by officials in Beijing last week and expected to be effect in the spring, will allow travel agencies in China to put together and sell packaged group tours to the United States. Chinese citizens have been largely prevented from leisure travel, permitted U.S. visits only for business or educational purposes.
Hawaii has long sought the U.S. government's relaxation of onerous and time-consuming visa requirements for Chinese tourists, but policy issues and concerns about migration and security threats have made that problematic. To their credit, the state and Hawaii industry officials have also worked the other side, winning China's permission to open a tourism and business office in Beijing two years ago.
This could give the state a leg up in selling Hawaii to Chinese travelers, who tend to spend more of their newfound wealth from a booming economy than visitors from other countries. But the United States comes late to the party, trailing more than 90 countries in negotiating "approved destination" status with China.
Still, Hawaii's advantageous geographic position will make stopping in the islands attractive even though travelers are ultimately headed to the continent.
As an established "product" -- a destination well known globally -- Hawaii has struggled to lure seasoned travelers and to compete with other sun-and-surf locations, like Tahiti, considered more exotic. The industry has had to refresh the islands' image and seek out niche travelers to supplement the typical sight- seeing Waikiki tourists.
Moreover, the Japanese market that once flushed the industry with high-spenders has become "anemic," according to a University of Hawaii economic report Thursday that predicted growth would have to come from other regions than Japan and the U.S. mainland.
How lucrative the Chinese market will become for Hawaii will depend on how the destination is sold, how well the state and China's tourism initiatives mesh and, fundamentally, on whether what the state has to offer is what its newest would-be visitors want.