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Going to the extreme


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POSTED: Thursday, October 01, 2009

Bin Li, the owner of China's largest water and snow sport company, has braved the waves in Malaysia, the Philippines and Thailand without chicken skin.

But on Oahu's North Shore yesterday, Li finally got his moment.

“;I saw some really good water sports performers,”; Li said.

“;Some of the same guys that I've seen in videos, I met on the beach.”;

It was then that Li, who owns Beijing Nature Power, fell in love with Hawaii and proclaimed it a “;water sports paradise.”;

Li has not left the islands, but already he is planning his return. He hopes to come back early next year during the Chinese Spring Festival holidays with a sizable group from his club for extreme sports enthusiasts.

While Hawaii's visitor industry has been welcoming Chinese travelers for some time, it was only last year that the Chinese government began allowing its travel agencies to work with U.S. companies to organize and market packaged group leisure tours.

As China's economy has continued to improve, the Chinese have begun to seek out opportunities for travel and play, thereby creating additional opportunities for Hawaii's visitor industry to convert their desire into bookings, said Jason “;C.J.”; Chen, chief executive officer and founder of Baby Can Media LLC, which runs http://www.Hawaii-Day.com.

“;Playtime used to be a Western thing. Now it's becoming more important for Asia,”; Chen said.

For example, about six years ago, fewer than 2,000 people were snowboarding in China; now there are about 3 million, Li said. While water sports have lagged snow sports in China, Li expects they will catch up. And when they do, Li thinks Hawaii will be a must-see destination.

“;Hawaii is a very competitive destination,”; he said. “;It has beautiful surf and, unlike the other countries that we visit, it is Western.”;

That is why members of Hawaii's visitor industry, such as the Waikiki Resort Hotel, are positioning themselves to ride the wave along with Waikiki Resort Hotel Sales Director Nannette Akau, who gave Li a tour of the property yesterday. She relished the chance to build more ties to Chinese travelers.

“;This is an opportunity for us to align ourselves with good partners who can help us massage the destination for the Chinese market,”; Akau said.

While Waikiki Resort Hotel has long counted a high percentage of Asian visitors among its clientele, in the past the typical Chinese guests stayed four nights. In comparison, when Li and members of his mostly white-collar extreme sports club travel, their average length of stay tends to be two weeks, he said.

“;We spend most of our time on the water, but we also love to shop,”; Li said. “;Hawaii has lots to offer.”;

For this reason, coupling China's extreme sports enthusiasts with Hawaii's visitor industry could be a match made in heaven.