The first chartered direct flight full of high-spending Chinese tourists touched down at Honolulu Airport yesterday 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, lei, soft drinks and plenty of picture-taking.
By comparison, spending for all Hawaii tourists averages just $178 per day, according to the HTA.
So yesterday’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 of 66,048 Chinese visitors, who each spent an average of $357 per day. This year the HTA expects to see 82,146 Chinese tourists, 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 yesterday full of smiles.
Their flight originated in Beijing, picked up more passengers in Shanghai Pudong International Airport east of Shanghai, and then took seven hours and 10 minutes to land in Hono-lulu — a time Li said through a translator was "very fast."
When asked how she plans to spend six days in the islands, Li rattled off a response.
"Shopping," the translator said. "She wants to go shopping."
Li 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," said the translator.
Yesterday’s flight was the first of three chartered by China CYTS Tours and expected to arrive in the first four months of the year, according to the HTA.
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, former director of the state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism, flew in economy class aboard yesterday’s flight, which, he said, represented the culmination of 18 months of work by the administration of former Gov. Linda Lingle.
Liu estimated that one-fourth of the passengers have been to Hawaii before by flying through Narita, Japan, or through South Korea. The majority of yesterday’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 completed 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 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 individual 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 the 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."