This weekend, Hawaii welcomed the first in what the state hopes will be a steadily growing number of chartered direct flight from China, as 263 tourists landed in Honolulu for a six-day Chinese New Year holiday. Hawaii has been working hard to attract the lucrative, but still underdeveloped, Chinese outbound tourism market following the signing of a US-China memorandum of understanding in 2007 (which sought to streamline the process of obtaining travel visas for Chinese tourists), sending several tourism delegations to promote Hawaii investment and tourism in China and greatly increasing its marketing budget.
According to the Hawaii Tourism Authority, 66,048 Chinese visitors traveled to Hawaii last year, a figure the state expects to swell 24 percent to 82,146 in 2011. As Marsha Wienert, state tourism liaison, told Hawaii Business last fall, “[Chinese tourism is] similar to where we were in the early days of Japanese travel to the U.S.” What these growing numbers of Chinese tourists mean for retailers and tourism operators, obviously, is an influx of much-needed cash. Much like they have in other major tourist destinations around the world, Chinese visitors have quickly established themselves as the biggest-spending group in Hawaii, spending on average $368 per person per day, compared to the $275 per day for Japanese tourists.
The arrival of the first chartered direct flight was welcomed by an airport reception, featuring hula dancers, live music and the traditional lei. As David Uchiyama, vice president of brand management for the Hawaii Tourism Authority, remarked at the reception, "This is going to have a big impact on the state."
One thing is certain: these tourists are going to have a big impact on the retail market. From the Honolulu Star-Bulletin:
Li Xiu Ying, a retired teacher from Szechuan province, and her husband, factory manager Quing Shi Luo, deplaned from the chartered Airbus 340 yesterday full of smiles.
Their flight originated in Beijing, picked up more passengers in Shanghai Pudong International Airport east of Shanghai, and then took seven hours and 10 minutes to land in Hono-lulu -- a time Li said through a translator was "very fast."
When asked how she plans to spend six days in the islands, Li rattled off a response.
"Shopping," the translator said. "She wants to go shopping."
Now that the first direct flight has successfully landed, the question remains: how will Hawaii attract even more Chinese tourists? While 82,000 Chinese visitors would be a great success in 2011, it pales in comparison to the 1.2 million visitors Hawaii welcomes every year from Japan, its second-biggest market. As Linda Chiem noted this week, much work remains to be done:
[T]here’s no denying that China, just by its sheer size, could mean big business for Hawaii. But China comes with its own unique set of issues — for example, the cost and long wait times for travel visas and the lack of regularly scheduled nonstop flights to Hawaii. So, even with China’s emerging middle-class and new wealth, are they willing to spend and spend big in Hawaii?