The first chartered direct flight from China touched down at Honolulu International Airport this morning with 263 passengers eager to shop and see the islands through the Chinese New Year over the next six days.
Chinese visitors are expected to spend an average of $368 per person per day this year, compared to just $275 per day for every Japanese tourist, said David Uchiyama, vice president of brand management for the Hawaii Tourism Authority, who welcomed the Chinese guests at a special airport reception that included hula dancers, live Hawaiian music, leis, soft drinks and plenty of picture taking.
By comparison, the average spending for all Hawaii tourists averages just $178 per day, according to the HTA.
So today’s arrival of high-spending Chinese visitors from a specially chartered flight is "significant," Uchiyama said. "This is going to have a big impact on the state."
Last year, Hawaii saw the arrival 66,048 Chinese visitors, who each spent an average of $357 per day. This year the Hawaii Tourism Authority expects to see 82,146 Chinese tourists for a 24 percent increase.
Li Xiu Ying, a retired teacher from Szechuan province, and her husband, factory manager Quing Shi Luo, deplaned from the chartered Airbus 340 this morning full of smiles.
Their flight originated in Beijing, picked up more passengers in Shanghai Pudong International Airport east of Shanghai and then took 7 hours and 10 minutes to land in Honolulu — a time that Ying called "very fast" through a translator.
When asked how she plans to spend the next six days in the islands, Ying said through the translator, "Shopping, she wants to go shopping."
Ying is particularly eager to buy high-end, designer goods in Honolulu that she can trust to be authentic.
"She’s happy to come to this place that everybody in the world wants to see," Ying said through the translator.
Today’s flight is the first of three chartered by China CYTS Tours that’s expected to arrive in the first four months of the year, according to the Hawaii Tourism Authority.
It follows the 2007 signing of a U.S.-China memorandum of understanding that helped make it easier for Chinese visitors to obtain travel visas to come to Hawaii.
Ted Liu, the former director of the state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism, flew in economy class aboard today’s flight, which represented the culmination of 18 months of work by the administration of former Gov. Linda Lingle, Liu said.
Liu estimated that one-fourth of the passengers have been to Hawaii before by flying through Narita, Japan or South Korea. The majority of today’s passengers were families that included grandchildren and the elderly, Liu said.
"There was a lot of excitement on board, a lot of happy people," Liu said. "People were very excited about Hawaii."
However, there was no Hawaii literature onboard the Airbus 340 or any Hawaii-themed, in-flight videos to get passengers excited about what they will see in the islands, which needs to be corrected, Liu said.
And once on the ground, some passengers spent 30 to 45-minutes filling out customs forms that could have easily been done in advance in the air, Liu said.
But he was pleased that so many arriving Chinese passengers seemed eager to start their Hawaii vacations, which Liu expects will include plenty of shopping for high-end, luxury goods.
"They can get better value here, as well as the assurance that it’s authentic," Liu said.
Many of the Chinese visitors planned to follow China CYTS Tours of major Oahu attractions while others designed separate itineraries.
The Hawaii Tourism Authority said the Chinese visitors will stay at the Hilton Hawaiian Village, Sheraton Waikiki, Sheraton Princess Kaiulani, Aston Hotels and Resorts, Ocean Resorts Waikiki and Hyatt Regency.
"The series of Hawaii package products have been promoted in Beijing, Shanghai, Tianjin and Shanxi Province and are designed to meet the different demands of Chinese travelers," Zhang Lijun, president of CYTS said in a statement. "The tour package for this first group is specifically for individuals who wanted to travel during the Chinese New Year."