The state is in discussions with a Chinese air carrier that would allow charter flights from Shanghai to Hawaii while it continues to work out details of an agreement to begin direct flights between Beijing and Honolulu, Gov. Linda Lingle said.
If details can be worked out with the charter carrier and the U.S. embassy in Shanghai, the number of Chinese visitors to Hawaii could increase by about 25,000 by year’s end, Lingle said. Hawaii typically gets about 50,000 Chinese visitors annually.
"They made a commitment that within one week of us returning we would have an answer on whether or not this was going to be possible on their end," Lingle said yesterday at a news conference in her office.
Discussions arose during the governor’s recent two-week promotional tour of Hawaii to China and Japan.
Lingle, who returned Saturday, said state officials were still working with the embassy on the possibility of streamlining the interview process for potential Chinese tourists.
Potential tourists from China to the United States currently must be interviewed at the embassy before receiving a visa, but requests are so numerous that scheduling interviews is backlogged for months, Lingle said.
"What we are asking for is a more reliable system so that a person knows, ‘I can get an interview a week from Thursday, not in the next three to four months,’" Lingle said.
Lingle noted the Chinese tourist is more coveted than ever, with state figures showing that those visitors spend more than any other in Hawaii, about $312 per person per day, about twice the amount of a North American visitor. In the first quarter of 2010, Japanese visitors spent about $254 per day, according to the Hawaii Tourism Authority.
Meanwhile, Lingle said the state remains in talks with Hainan Airlines on when the carrier will begin service.
Hainan has all of the needed approvals but is working out details such as landing fees, Lingle said.
"For airlines in China, especially a private airline like Hainan Airline, they are used to making deals in certain countries that we just can’t make as a part of the United State of America," Lingle said. "For instance, they get a break on landing fees in certain countries — they get incentive payments from the airports to actually land there. We’re not able to do that.
"Sometimes it’s just an educational process to explain what we are able to do and what we’re not able to do," Lingle said.