Hello, Hainan Air!


POSTED: Friday, July 31, 2009

Visitor industry executives say tourism from China to Hawaii could lift off if Hainan Airlines gets government approval to begin offering direct service this fall.

The airline, which has been operating nonstop between Beijing and Seattle four times a week since last June, has filed applications with the U.S. and Hawaii Departments of Transportation to offer weekly, nonstop service on a three-class Airbus A340-600 to Hawaii, and Hawaii officials think this could be a bridge over troubled water for the state's tourism industry.

“;We are excited to be able to finally bridge Hawaii to China and to link the two capital cities of Beijing and Honolulu,”; said Joel Chusid, general manger for North America for Hainan Airlines, which is China's largest private air carrier.

Tourism from China to Hawaii actually declined 3.5 percent to 54,618 visitors in 2008, but isle tourism officials expect it to become a core market.

“;We think that it could double in the next 18 months and then double again,”; said state Tourism Liaison Marsha Wienert.

Hainan Airlines said it plans to eventually increase the frequency of the Beijing-Honolulu service to up to three flights a week as demand builds.

In the past, Chinese leisure travelers who wanted to visit the islands had to take charter flights or combine stopovers in Hawaii with their trips to New Zealand, Japan, Guam, the Philippines, Australia or connecting cities on the U.S. mainland, said Rick Seaney, chief executive of FareCompare.com.

Hainan Airlines also expects that some of its travelers will use Hawaii as an alternative gateway for travel between China and the U.S. mainland, instead of Seattle. Seaney said the main connection point between China and Hawaii continues to be Japan.

“;It's hard to say in these tough economic times if any more will follow Hainan,”; Seaney said. “;Global demand is too volatile to speculate.”;

Regardless, the direct flight will help Hawaii expand its advantages in the China market, said Jon Conching, Hilton Hawaii's regional vice president of sales and marketing.

“;Hawaii, with its unique blend of American and Asian cultures, can make significant inroads into the China market with these increased flights,”; Conching said.

Hawaii's visitor industry is gearing up to welcome more Chinese visitors, said Jason “;C.J.”; Chen, founder of http://www.Hawaii-Day.com, a Web site that promotes Hawaii travel in China.

“;There's a lot of demand from Hawaii's visitor industry. My company has grown faster than I thought that it would,”; said Chen, who counts the Polynesian Cultural Center, the Hawaii Tourism Authority and hotels such as Aston, Starwood and Aqua among his clients.

Starwood Hotels & Resorts in Hawaii recently began requiring employees to receive Chinese cultural training, said Keith Vieira, senior vice president for Starwood Hotels & Resorts in Hawaii and French Polynesia. And the company hired a China sales manager six months ago, Vieira said.

“;It's such a large market that even if we only receive a small percent of it, we'll still see a big impact,”; he said.

The new service, which is primarily targeted at Chinese tourists, will finally allow the state to get its share of travelers from sought-after romance, family and luxury markets, said Toby Tamaye, president of AT Marketing.

In addition to the tourism benefits, a direct flight would help other Hawaii businesses gain a foothold in China, said Dave Erdman, president and chief executive of PacRim Marketing.

He said a nonstop scheduled flight “;can carry home cargo and can open up the market to receiving more goods from Hawaii, including hard goods and, potentially, agricultural products.”;


» What: Hainan Airlines

» Founded: 1993

» Customers: Flies more than 14 million passengers annually

» Routes: More than 60 domestic and international cities, including the capitals of every Chinese province; Budapest, Hungary; Brussels, Belgium; and St. Petersburg, Russia; Berlin; Taipei; Luanda, Angola; Moscow; Dubai, United Arab Emirates; and Seattle

» Upcoming: Plans to launch once-a-week nonstop service to Honolulu in the fall, pending government approvals, and eventually increase the frequency to up to three times a week.

» Honolulu distance and time: 4,680 nautical miles; nine hours and 20 minutes

Source: Hainan Airlines