Tourism Officials Estimate Chinese Tourists Will Inject US$60 Million Annually Into State Economy
After plenty of false starts, trial runs, and an extended promotional campaign that saw the state increase its marketing budget for China nearly five-fold between 2006-2010, this week Hawaii welcomed China Eastern’s first regular direct flight from Shanghai. While three chartered direct flights from China landed in Honolulu between January 30-February 10 on a trial run, regular flight service (which will depart from Shanghai on Tuesdays and Fridays) should increase the frequency with which Chinese tourists fly in and out of Hawaii — which could prove a windfall for the state’s retailers.
The Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) predicts that 91,000 Chinese tourists will visit Hawaii this year, a rise of 37 percent over 2010, and the new route is expected to increase annual visitor expenditure by some US$60 million. With visits by Hawaii’s traditional Asian tourist base, the Japanese, dipping 16 percent in June, Hawaii is putting greater urgency on attracting more mainland Chinese. The reasons for this are obvious: even though Japanese tourist arrivals in Hawaii are slightly down this year, over 84,000 visited the islands in June alone, and though arrivals are down, the HTA reports that spending is up.
Still, as we’ve seen in places like Seoul, London and Hong Kong, on an individual basis, spending by mainland Chinese tourists can’t be matched. As Mike McCartney of the HTA said this week, “Chinese happen to spend the most money per visitor in the world, over $320 a person per day. And so that will be good for Hawaii’s economy, good for the U.S. economy.”
Despite Hawaii’s optimism, however, major obstacles remain. Though Hawaii governor Neil Abercrombie and tourism officials have said they hope to eventually welcome daily direct flights from China, strict visa requirements stand in the way of significantly increasing Chinese tourism. According to the governor, he plans to bring up the idea of waiving or otherwise loosening visa restrictions when government officials from the US and China are in Hawaii for the upcoming APEC Summit. As Abercrombie told a local Honolulu news station this week, “If we can work something in that area of visa waivers in general or perhaps for Hawaii as a test case we’re gonna pursue that.”
We’ve heard similar things from Hawaiian governors before, so the question remains whether Abercrombie’s efforts will actually bear fruit this time around. We know this is a story that Hawaii’s retailers are watching closely.