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Fewer S. Koreans visiting Hawaii than expected under visa waiver


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POSTED: Sunday, August 09, 2009

Question: What ever happened to the Korean tourism market after the visa waiver went into effect?

Answer: On Nov. 17, South Koreans became eligible to travel to the United States without visas under certain conditions. Tourism officials had hoped the visa waiver program would help double the number of Koreans visiting Hawaii.

But forces beyond Hawaii's control have dampened that optimistic scenario. A drop in the value of the Korean currency last year, the global economic recession and fear of the H1N1 swine flu all took a toll.

Nonetheless, the Hawaii Tourism Authority projects that 44,000 South Koreans will visit Hawaii this year. That would be a nearly 16 percent increase from the 38,000 who came in 2008.

Meanwhile, the tourism authority expects arrivals from Japan and China to be relatively flat this year as compared to last, according to David Uchiyama, Hawaii Tourism Authority vice president of tourism marketing.

As the Korean currency — the won — has started to recover in recent months, there are signs of renewed interest in travel to Hawaii, Uchiyama said.

“;In the field there is strong interest for Hawaii as a destination, not just in the leisure side, but also the meetings, incentive and convention business,”; Uchiyama said.

Under the waiver program, Koreans can travel to the United States without visas for business or pleasure for up to 90 days as long as they have e-passports and get approval through the online Electronic System for Travel Authorization before their trips.

Austin Kang, co-chairman of the Korean Visa Waiver Committee, said roughly 45 percent of Koreans arriving in Hawaii from January to July of this year came without visas.

“;With the exchange rate stabilization and good signals for economic recovery [in Korea], we are expecting more people to come the second half of this year and then into next year,”; Kang said.

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