Governors to promote tourism during forum

Updated: 2011-10-17 10:48

By Ariel Tung (China Daily)

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Governors to promote tourism during forum

NEW YORK - Reaching out to China's booming tourism market is a priority for Hawaii Governor Neil Abercrombie during the three-day US-China Governors Forum in Beijing. Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) President Mike McCartney and other tourism officials will join Abercrombie - his inaugural trip to Asia - for the forum on Wednesday.

A good relationship between China and the US not only stimulates Hawaii's economy but also encourages cultural understanding, Abercrombie said. The Big Island already has sister-state relationships with Guangdong and Hainan provinces.

"The Chinese culture and traditions have long since become intertwined into our own local culture, building on Hawaii's longstanding and very special relationship with China," Abercrombie said in an e-mail to China Daily.

Guam Governor Eddie Baza Calvo, who will also attend the forum, is also interested in promoting the US territory as a travel destination to the Chinese people.

At the first US-China Governors Forum in Salt Lake City in February, he discussed with Zhejiang Party chief Zhao Hongzhu about the potential for increased tourism from China if a visa waiver program is approved.

"US governors and the Obama administration understand how critical it is for the nation to build economic alliances with China," Calvo said.

Zhao told Calvo he intends to encourage residents of his populous province to visit Guam, according to Calvo. Zhao mentioned that many of Zhejiang's citizens currently vacation in Singapore, which is a six-hour flight, whereas a flight to Guam is only four hours.

The number of Chinese tourists in Hawaii has jumped significantly since the signing of the 2007 Memorandum of Understanding between the US and China to allow Chinese vacationers to visit North America.

HTA, Hawaii's state tourism agency, projects a total of 91,000 Chinese visitors in Hawaii this year, a 37 percent increase over last year's visitors. The average Chinese tourist spends $349 per person per day, according to data compiled by HTA, whereas the average Japanese visitor spends $261 per person per day.

Hawaii's Department of Business, Economic Development & Tourism forecasts visitors from China to Hawaii will increase by 20 percent per year from 2012 to 2014. By 2014, Hawaii will have 140,000 Chinese visitors.

At the upcoming three-day forum, McCartney will join Abercrombie for a meeting with Shao Qiwei, director of China's National Tourism Administration. The two will also meet with officials from China Eastern Airlines and the United States embassy as well as representatives from the airline and travel industries.

HTA works closely with its overseas contractor Hawaii Tourism China, which has offices in Shanghai and Beijing, to promote Hawaii to Chinese travelers as a vacation and business destination, according to McCartney.

In August, China Eastern Airlines launched its first direct, nonstop flight between Shanghai and Honolulu. It's the first twice-a-week flight connecting China and Hawaii. HTA estimates that this regularly scheduled flight, Tuesdays and Fridays, will provide $60 million in annual visitor expenditures for the state.

Before traveling to North America, Chinese travelers are required to obtain a tourist visa. When the Visa Waiver Program was introduced to South Korea in 2008, the number of travelers from South Korea to Hawaii increased significantly, according to McCartney.

McCartney said the state has been working hard to support efforts that could help expedite the process for obtaining travel visas.

"We understand the visa process for Chinese visitors is long, and we hope to ease it," McCartney said.