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No quick fix from Asia in tourism promotion


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POSTED: Monday, March 30, 2009

HAWAII has joined an effort to encourage congressional legislation that would launch a promotion program to increase international travel to the United States, but the near future looks bleak. Unfortunately, throwing dollars enticing tourists to Hawaii from Asia is not likely to produce quick results.

Not too long ago, South Koreans looked to be a pot of gold for Hawaii's travel industry. We envisioned them crowding Hawaii's golf courses to cheer on the 40-plus Korean women who now dominate the LPGA along with Korean-American Michelle Wie.

Alas, all three LPGA events in Hawaii have come to an end, and South Korea's currency, which surged in value against the dollar a few years ago, has gone south. South Koreans needed 906 won to exchange for a dollar in November 2007, but they now need 1,400 won for a dollar—2 million won to exchange for a yen today, compared with 1.18 million won a year ago.

As a result, South Korea has become a cheap place to vacation, luring Japanese travelers in streams, according to the Wall Street Journal. The number of Japanese tourists visiting South Korea in December and January soared more than 50 percent above the previous year's figures, while the number of Koreans traveling abroad in January declined 38.6 percent. The motto: "Visit Korea Now—Double Your Joy at Half the Cost."

Visitor arrivals in Hawaii from abroad fell last year to 1.7 million, a 15 percent reduction from 2001, according to Marsha Weinert, the state tourism liaison. Any dividends from a promotion program probably will be delayed until the economy becomes stable in the United States and throughout Asia.