Hawaii faces significant obstacles in attracting more Chinese visitors to its shores, tourism experts say.
Hawaii tourism officials are looking to China and South Korea to help offset continuing declines in the number of visitors from Japan, the state's largest source of foreign tourists.
But Frank Haas of the University of Hawaii travel school says other destinations such as Singapore and Guam are also vying for Chinese travelers.
Among Hawaii's obstacles is a lack of direct flights from China and its status as a leisure destination.
Many of the 41 million outbound trips from China last year were for business, and about 90 percent of those were to other destinations in Asia, Haas said.
Chinese tourists accounted for 56,000 of the 7.4 million visitors who came to Hawaii in 2007. More than 1.3 million Japanese visited Hawaii the same year.
Unlike Japanese visitors, the Chinese must also obtain a visa, which can be an arduous process.
"There is a heck of a lot of potential from China, but it's not simply going to fall from the sky into our laps," Haas said.
Haas was part of a panel discussing Chinese tourism to Hawaii on Tuesday that included State Tourism Liaison Marsha Wienert and Hawaiian Airlines Senior Director of Asia-Pacific Business Development Dan Burruss.
Burruss said the number of American carriers that can operate in China is limited by an agreement between the US government and China. Hawaiian Airlines unsuccessfully lobbied a few years ago to break into the Chinese market with a Honolulu-Shanghai flight, he said.
"We realized early on that this is a route that has huge potential," he said.
Although the airline is not giving up, Burruss said it faces an uphill battle. It has to show US regulators that Hawaii-China flights greatly benefit American travelers.
Panelists on Tuesday said the state also faces challenges in catering to Chinese visitors.
Ted Sturdivant of the Hawaii Chinese Tourism Association said many visitors from the Asian nation do not find the Chinese food in Hawaii to be exceptional.
And Haas said Chinese tourists have raised concerns about discrimination and a lack of local knowledge of Chinese customs.
Wienert said private businesses have developed Chinese language and cultural training programs. She said the Hawaii Tourism Authority is interested in partnering with Kapiolani Community College to provide basic Chinese language and cultural skills to the hospitality industry.
Wienert said an agreement between the US and China that is expected to go into effect later this year would allow US companies to actively market and advertise travel destinations in China and permit Chinese leisure travel in groups to the US.
US officials have said they will try to expedite the visa process for Chinese visitors if the agreement goes into effect, she said.
Source: China Daily/Agencies