Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi meets with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton during a meeting at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit on Nov 10 in Honolulu. Yang said that China is willing to build a cooperative partnership with the United States based on mutual respect and mutual benefits. Robyn Beck / Agence France Presse
HONOLULU - While the US economy has been slow in recovering, the island state of Hawaii is improving its lot by attracting Chinese tourists.
And their contributions have been great enough to gain notice in high places. Among those who recognize the benefits of Chinese tourism is Thomas Donohue, president and CEO of the US Chamber of Commerce.
On Tuesday at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit, which is taking place in Hawaii, he called for the United States to relax the visa requirements imposed on foreign tourists and investors, including the Chinese.
The US tourism industry generates about $700 billion a year and employs about 7.4 million people.
As the US continues to lose some of its appeal as a travel destination, US politicians have recognized that flaws exist in their country`s visa procedures. Chinese business people, who are often prevented from pursuing opportunities in the United States because they cannot obtain visas, have raised similar points.
"Governor Neil Abercrombie and I visited China and had the opportunity to meet with the US embassy in Beijing," said Mike McCartney, president and CEO of the Hawaii Tourism Authority.
"We were very pleased with the progress the US embassy has made with processing travel visas for visitors from China and the ability of the US embassy to expedite visa applications with increased capacity, which will allow for continued growth in the number of visitors from China."
The Hawaii Tourism Authority`s latest figures suggest that Chinese tourists are giving a boost to the Hawaiian travel industry. The third quarter of the year saw a significant increase in the number of Chinese who are among the tourists coming to the island state from parts of Asia other than Japan. That helped to make up for the decrease in the number of Japanese visitors who have been coming since an earthquake and tsunami struck their country in March.
"Visitors from China to the Hawaiian Islands have been increasing year over year since the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding in 2007 between the US and China, allowing for group and leisure travel," McCartney said.
"For 2011, we anticipate 91,000 Chinese visitors to arrive in Hawaii, up 37 percent over 2010.
"Increases in visitor arrivals and spending are good for our economy, as tourism is the largest source of private capital into the state. In 2010, tourism provided more than 150,000 jobs, and we anticipate that number to reach 159,000 by the end of 2011."
In 2010 alone, the total amount of revenue and expenditures coming to Hawaii from China reached $128.8 million. This year Hawaii is expecting to receive $201 million in revenue from the same source, said Jadie Goo, tourism-brand manager for the Hawaii Tourism Authority.
The largest amount of revenue came from hotels, tourism attractions, restaurants and shopping malls.
Goo said Chinese travelers spent more than any other visitors to the island, paying out $360 a person in the first nine months of 2011. Of their expenditures, they put the most money into shopping ($186), followed by lodging ($70), food ($43) and entertainment ($30).
The Hawaii Tourism Authority also worked with the University of Hawaii Kapiolani Community College in 2008 to give tourism workers training in Chinese language, culture, protocol and customs. The program is meant to make such workers better at welcoming Chinese visitors to Hawaii.
To date, more than 2,000 service workers have taken part in the program. They include employees and managers at Starwood Hawaii Waikiki properties, Hilton Hawaiian Village, Louis Vuitton, Tiffany, Waikiki Business Improvement District Association and others.
In September, the Hawaii Tourism Authority welcomed tourism officials from throughout the US and China to the 5th Annual China-US Tourism Leadership Summit on Hawaii Island.
In August, China Eastern Airlines began offering its first direct, nonstop flight between Shanghai and Honolulu. So far, about 70 percent of those flights` seats have been occupied on average.
Hawaii Governor Neil Abercrombie says that is all for the good.
"A harmonious relationship between China and the US not only encourages understanding between the two cultures, but also benefits Hawaii`s economy," he said.