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Asiana will return to the isle market with twice-weekly charters from South Korea

By Dave Segal and Allison Schaefers

LAST UPDATED: 2:26 p.m. HST, Aug 5, 2011

Asiana Airlines, South Korea's second-largest carrier, is the latest airline to tap into the growing number of visitors coming to Hawaii from the Asian nation.

The Seoul-based airline said Thursday it will begin twice-weekly charter flights between Incheon International Airport, just outside Seoul, and Honolulu. The flights aboard its 269-seat Airbus A330-300 will run Thursdays and Sundays from Sept. 18 to Dec. 8 and add 6,456 more seats to the market.

This will mark a return to Hawaii for Asiana, which stopped daily scheduled service in January 1998 due to waning demand amid a financial slowdown in South Korea.

The Hawaii Tourism Authority is projecting that 127,750 visitors from South Korea will arrive in the islands this year, up 47 percent from 86,880 a year ago, and spend an average of $253 per day. HTA estimates that the new flight will provide $5.76 million in visitor spending.

"The new flights to Hawaii represent the great interest by Asiana Airlines in Hawaii," said Seok-Won Song, general manager of Asiana Airlines' international routes and sales division. "We will work closely with the Hawaii Tourism Authority and Hawaii Tourism Korea, as well as participating agents, to implement various public relations and marketing programs to aggressively promote the new charter flights."

The HTA has been promoting Hawaii in South Korea. HTA recently gave $200,000 to Asiana for flight support. Earlier this year, HTA spent $300,000 to participate in a marketing program with Korean Air, South Korea's largest airline, to create demand in Korea during slower periods and to boost travelers on the carrier's two daily flights, said David Uchiyama, HTA vice president of brand management.

This new Asiana flight comes in the middle of an ongoing Hawaii TV promotion in Korea. KBS TV's "Challenger" show, which filmed all episodes in Hawaii, is being shown in Korea every Saturday until early October, Uchiyama said. The well-timed exposure for Hawaii cost HTA $125,000 and is estimated to be worth $20 million, he said.

Korean arrivals have been growing since the United States included South Korea in a visa waiver program in November 2008.

"With the increasing interest from Korea, it is essential that we have the air access to support that demand," HTA chief Mike McCartney said. "These flights are great news for Hawaii and our visitor industry, and we are hopeful they will become regularly scheduled flights in the future."

Two other carriers offer scheduled service between South Korea and Hawaii.

Hawaiian Airlines began four-times-a-week service to Incheon in January with a 264-seat Boeing 767-300ER that will bring 54,000 seats a year into the state.

Korean Air operates two flights a day between Seoul and Honolulu on a 296-seat Airbus A330-300 that will bring 213,000 seats a year into the islands.

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