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State expects to reap dividends from China expo

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The world’s largest aloha shirt, size 400-XL, provided by Hilo Hattie, takes center stage during Hawaii Week at the Shanghai World Expo.

The $450,000 price tag to market Hawaii to China during the recent Shanghai World Expo will pay off by fueling demand from an emerging market at a time when the state needs to focus on creating growth outside of its core areas, several members of the state’s visitor industry said upon returning home.

Gov. Linda Lingle and a delegation of about 60 government officials, businesses and entertainers were in Shanghai last week to showcase Hawaii to Chinese visitors and to bolster trade, investment and study abroad. The governor’s delegation attended "Hawaii Week" from June 6 through Saturday at the Shanghai World Expo, which is expected to attract more than 70 million visitors from 190 countries by the end of its run on Oct. 31.


Eye on China

  2010* Arrivals/change


China 60,000 + 33%
Japan 1.2M + 5.2%
Korea 66,000 +21%

* Estimated

Source: Hawaii Tourism Authority

While the U.S. pavilion and the expo’s effectiveness have been questioned by various media, Hawaii attendees reported a positive experience. Unlike San Antonio, which reportedly found it difficult to get attention at the expo, Hawaii got strong turnouts and coverage, said David Uchiyama, Hawaii Tourism Authority vice president of brand management.

"It worked out perfectly," Uchiyama said. "We had to bring in more chairs."

Visitors to Hawaii Week tasted chocolate-covered macadamia nuts, heard a parade of Hawaiian entertainers and got to gaze at a size 400-XL aloha shirt certified as the world’s largest by the Guinness Book of World Records. Hawaii entertainers performed while images rotated on large backdrops. Lingle also addressed 100 Chinese journalists and gave interviews to the Shanghai Daily and China Tourism News.

While tourism from China to Hawaii actually slipped 17 percent to 45,050 visitors in 2009, isle tourism officials expect it will become a core market. Chinese arrivals are forecast to surpass 60,000 in 2010 and hit 90,000 by 2011, Uchiyama said. During the global recession, Hawaii had to focus resources on mature markets that would respond quickly, he said. As these markets improve, the state must broaden its gaze, he said.

"Our core markets have stabilized, so we need to look to emerging markets, such as China, that offer huge opportunities," Uchiyama said.

China is becoming Hawaii’s fastest-growing and highest-spending visitor market, Lingle said. Chinese visitors to Hawaii rose 23 percent during the first quarter of 2010, and their spending climbed to $312 per person per day, she said. Given that only 3 percent of China’s population will travel abroad this year, growth opportunities for Hawaii are significant, Lingle said.

"The traveling segment of China will grow past every other source market; they are eager to see the world and to spend money on goods to bring back for themselves and friends," said Danny Ojiri, vice president of sales and marketing for Outrigger Enterprise Group’s Asia Pacific region.

Still, Lingle and the industry must improve an arduous visa process, get direct airlift between destinations and offer more services such as translation to reap the benefits, Ojiri said.

Uchiyama said he and other officials have asked the U.S. government to fix glitches with the visa system, which become automated in April. Tourism officials encouraged Hainan Air to begin service between Honolulu and Beijing, Uchiyama said. Other carriers have joined the discussion as well.


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