Officials see obstacles to increasing China tourism
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While Hawaii stands to see the number of Chinese visitors increase substantially later this year when the country begins allowing leisure travel to the United States, it won't be a slam dunk for the local industry.
Tourism officials at a panel discussion yesterday said barriers to travel still include visa requirements, fingerprinting of foreign travelers and the lack of direct flights.
And, even when Chinese visitors get to Hawaii, there's the issue of satisfaction. Hawaii's visitor industry still needs to do more cultural and language training and post more signage to make Chinese visitors feel welcome, they say.
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Hawaii's visitor industry is readying itself to handle an increase in Chinese leisure travel this year, but officials say there remains a lot of work to be done.
Sometime this summer, Chinese travel agencies will be allowed to work with U.S. companies to organize and market packaged group leisure tours to the United States.
Last year, Hawaii attracted 55,910 of the Chinese visitors who came to the U.S. for business.
But there are still hurdles that must be dealt with before Hawaii can garner a substantial share of China's visitors, said Frank Haas, Acting Assistant Dean for the University of Hawaii School of Travel Industry Management, who was one of four panel speakers yesterday at a meeting of the American Marketing Association, Hawaii chapter.
"These visitors won't fall from the sky into our laps," Haas said. "We have to figure out what Chinese visitors want and how Hawaii can satisfy them."
Visitor satisfaction will be an important component of Hawaii's ability to attract Chinese visitors, said State Tourism Liaison Marsha Wienert. California, New York and Nevada along with Hawaii established tourism offices in China even before the leisure market opened, Wienert said.
"We are very optimistic in regard to the China market, but there's no question that a lot of product development needs to be done," she said.
According to the most recent Chinese visitor satisfaction polls, although 94 percent of them said that they would recommend Hawaii to a friend, only 12.5 percent of them indicated that they were extremely satisfied with their trip.
"We need more excellent scores and satisfied customers going back and telling their friends to come here," Wienert said.
Transportation is another impediment, said Daniel Burress, who handles Asia-Pacific travel for Hawaiian Airlines. Hawaii still has no direct flights from China, and the destination and aviation agreements are restrictive.
Hawaiian Airlines lost out to Continental in 2005 for the last routes awarded, but plans to apply again if any new air routes open up in the next 12 months or so, Burress said.
"Every U.S. carrier is scrambling to get this designation," Burress said.
However, since Hawaiian is "a small carrier in the middle of the Pacific Ocean" it may have more difficulty proving to the U.S. that a direct route between Hawaii and China would bring large benefits to U.S. travelers, Burress said.
For the most part, Hawaii is seen by Chinese travelers as a short stop on a more extensive itinerary, Haas said.
Currently most Chinese visitors in Hawaii are spending two to three days in Hawaii with only about a half a day for free time, said Ted Sturdivant of the Hawaii Chinese Tourism Authority.
"They are highly dependent on their tour escorts and this limits their experience," Sturdivant said. "They don't have a lot of time here, so some of the dissatisfaction is from the experiences that they have missed just by looking out the window."
Hawaii's hospitality industry needs to train its visitor industry about Chinese culture and Chinese language, he said. In addition to posting signage, more high-quality Chinese restaurants must be offered. Hawaii retailers also should consider accepting the China UnionPay, the only credit card organization in the People's Republic of China, Sturdivant said.
"Many big Paris department stores are already taking it," he said.