Friday, September 7, 2001

HVCB to reach out
to Chinese tourists

The state's visitors group will
participate in a festival in Asia
after a tourism event in Hawaii

By Russ Lynch

The Hawaii Visitors & Convention Bureau will follow what it expects to be a successful "first-ever" Hawaii Annual Tourism Conference Sept. 17-19 with a trip to Beijing, to take part in the Beijing International Cultural Tourism Festival Sept. 23-27.

The events are part of a schedule that aims to keep Hawaii on the global stage and prod travelers into choosing Hawaii as their destination, Tony Vericella, bureau president and chief executive officer, told a luncheon briefing for media representatives yesterday at the Halekulani Hotel.

The tourism conference, at the Hawaii Convention Center, picked up nearly 400 registrants last week alone, most of them opting to pay $150 each to be there all three days of the meeting, Vericella said. He called that response "very good" and said the bureau expects 700-800 participants, not bad for a first shot at discussing tourism and all of its impacts on business and the people who live in the islands.

Some 170 companies have signed up to have exhibits in the Global Marketplace, attached to the conference as an exhibit of interest to tourism professionals, Vericella sad.

The HVCB annual luncheon, in the middle of the three-day program, is expected to attract more than the 1,200-plus who attended last year, Vericella said.

The China trip will be a chance for a formal opening of the HVCB's Beijing office, although the office has been in place for about a year, Vericella said. Making it official will be the presence of Gov. Ben Cayetano and first lady Vicky. Vericella will also be there, along with Bob Fishman, chief executive of the Hawaii Tourism Authority; Sharon Narimatsu, deputy director of the state Department of Business, Economic Development & Tourism; and Wei-Wei Ojiri, HVCB vice president of developing international markets.

Hawaii plans a big presence at the Cultural Tourism Festival in Beijing, with two colorful floats in the opening parade, entertainers from the Polynesian Cultural Center dancing for the Chinese spectators and a series of business-related meetings and activities. One day of the festival will be Hawaii Day and the HVCB expects substantial media coverage.

Vericella acknowledged that the Chinese market is not easy to develop, partly because of the limited availability of visas for Chinese to visit the United States. But Hawaii already could be getting more Chinese visitors than it knows it has, he said, because many Chinese travel to the mainland on their way to Hawaii making their presence tougher to enumerate.

The numbers from China are "highly underestimated" for that reason, he said. There could be as many as 150,000 or 200,000 Chinese coming to the islands annually, he said, but there is no clear count.

Ojiri said the HVCB's Web site is about to become much more international, introducing Chinese, German, Korean and Spanish languages, as well as becoming more informative and interactive.

The HVCB plans to open a second China office, in Shanghai, before the end of this year. DBEDT will have a presence in both offices to promote Hawaii as a place to do business, Vericella said.

Other upcoming events that should have a positive effect on Hawaii tourism are the HVCB's move to take the "Aloha Friday" concept global on Oct. 5, promoting Hawaiian music and traditions in 15 major cities on five continents, and two travel-industry conferences.

The Society of American Travel Writers will have 400-500 members in Hawaii in October 2002, a "critical mass in creating awareness and really a buzz about Hawaii," Vericella said.

Right after that, in the first week in November 2002, the American Society of Travel Agents will bring some 5,000 agents to Hawaii for a conference.

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