Find ways to benefit from
growing Asian tourist market


A campaign is under way to gain concessions in rules that make it difficult for large numbers of South Koreans to visit Hawaii.

HAWAII'S tourism industry is missing out on a growing market from Asia that is expected to blossom within the next decade. A movement is under way to include South Korea among countries whose citizens are waived from the requirement to obtain visas in order to visit the United States. That effort and hopes of benefitting from the surge of tourism expected from China are bleak unless a plan can be devised that would avoid security risks.

Governor Lingle has suggested that multiple-entry visas could accommodate visitors to the United States from Korea and China, allowing Hawaii to capitalize on the growing market without compromising safety. Under such a system, a person could undergo the interview and background checks for a visa covering a 12- to 18-month period and be allowed to make unlimited visits during that time. That is the most sensible way for Hawaii to benefit from the growing tourism Asian market while guarding against terrorists.

Before the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, only 27 percent of South Koreans applying for visas were interviewed at the U.S. Embassy in Seoul. Security measures now require that all applicants be interviewed. As a result, the number of Hawaii visitors from Korea has fallen from 100,000 before 1997 to little more than half that.

Meanwhile, Koreans visiting Guam since 1998 have increased from 15,000 to 115,000 because of a 1987 law that exempts Korean visitors from the visa requirement as long as they restrict their visits to 15 days on Guam. Obviously, Koreans have opted for Guam over the hassle of getting a visa that would allow them to visit Hawaii.

A group has been petitioning since September to establish the same visa waiver for Hawaii-bound Korean visitors that is now allowed for visitors to Guam. Lingle initially endorsed the proposal but then had second thoughts. The law establishing the Guam program requires "an adequate arrival and departure control system." Marsha Wienert, Lingle's tourism liaison, has said that monitoring all of Hawaii's fortnight Korean visitors would be an unreasonable burden.

Lingle asked Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge last week for visa exceptions for Koreans, but acknowledged that gaining such concessions will be difficult. U.S. visas are waived for visitors from countries that have established a record of having less than 2 percent of visa applicants denied visas. Korea's rejection rate was 6 percent in the late 1990s, when Hawaii officials last tried to include it in the waiver program.

Meanwhile, the state travel industry is looking wistfully at the booming tourism forecast from China as it emerges as Asia's economic power. Chinese tourists to foreign destinations numbered 16.5 million last year, and that is projected to soar to as many as 50 million by 2010 and 100 million by 2020.

Hawaii must find a way to garner its share of this burgeoning market.



Oahu Publications, Inc. publishes the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, MidWeek and military newspapers

David Black, Dan Case, Larry Johnson,
Duane Kurisu, Warren Luke, Colbert
Matsumoto, Jeffrey Watanabe,
Frank Teskey, Publisher

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Michael Rovner, Assistant Editor, 529-4768;
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Mary Poole, Editorial Page Editor, 529-4748;

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