Categorized | Opinions

Developing relationships, expanding tourism market mix

Kelvin Bloom is in his second term as chairman of the Hawaii Tourism Authority.

I recently returned from a week in China, accompanying Governor Lingle in Beijing and Shanghai.  All of the dynamic stories I’ve been hearing and reading about for some years, and the incredible potential this burgeoning country offers all came to vivid life for me from the moment I stepped out of Beijing International Airport.

There’s no substitute to being there and that’s certainly true in this case.

After a couple of fruitful days in Beijing and shortly after landing in Shanghai, Governor leaned over to me and said “Kelvin, Shanghai is like New York on steroids.”  She’s right.  I’ve been fortunate enough to have lived in a number of different countries but have never experienced the level of energy, optimism, and activity of Shanghai.

As reported in the China Daily News about our recent visit, “Hawaii is looking to China’s growing outbound tourism market as a much needed new gold mine for visitors to our islands.”

The publication went on to quote Governor Lingle as saying, “With a nine percent increase in GDP in the third quarter, China’s continuing economic recovery is critical to the recovery worldwide, as well as to Hawaii’s economy.  It is important for Hawaii to continue to strengthen our partnership with China so that our local businesses have the opportunity to capitalize on this large, emerging market.”

The state’s initiative to diversify Hawaii’s visitor market began several years ago and continues today with the recent trip to China to encourage travel to our islands.

I was fortunate to take part in the discussions with travel writers, travel sellers, the U.S. Embassy in China and with the China National Tourism Association (CNTA) chairman Shao Qi Wei.

Our tourism agenda included maximizing opportunities for Chinese tourists to travel to Hawaii.  Hawaii welcomed about 10,000 Chinese visitors a year in the 1990s and that jumped to 30,000 by 1998 and doubled to nearly 60,000 last year.

And with a daily per person per day expenditure of $324, the Chinese were our highest spending visitors in 2008.  This compares most favorably to our largest market, visitors from the U.S. West at $146 and our high spending Japanese at $288.

At a luncheon meeting in Beijing, I talked to a Chinese visitor who spent in excess of $100,000 in retail shopping alone during her last visit to the U.S.

We are hopeful to welcome to our island state 100,000 visitors in 2010, thanks to the Memorandum of Understanding which allowed for increased group leisure travel from China to the United States commencing in June of last year.

We believe our goal of 100,000 visitors in 2010 is achievable, in part, due to Hainan Airlines’ approval from the US Department of Transportation to begin nonstop service between Beijing and Honolulu.  Airlift is a key factor in increasing visitors from any destination.

Our discussions with our partners in China included a meeting with U.S. Ambassador Huntsman and his Embassy staff to ensure that obtaining a U.S travel visa will not be an obstacle to traveling to Hawaii.  He and his staff were most reassuring as they committed to work closely with us to facilitate Chinese travel to our islands and the mainland U.S.

Although my schedule required my return to Hawaii and I was unable to continue on to Hainan, I was delighted to learn of the outcome of the meeting between Gov. Lingle and Hainan Airlines’ founder and chairman of the board Chen Feng and Vice President Chen Ming.

It is my understanding that Chairman Feng shared with the governor that her trip was critical in expressing Hawaii’s support for their airline’s nonstop flight to Honolulu and advised they are planning to fly two flights per week between Beijing and Honolulu and hope to begin service by the second quarter of next year.

Tourism opportunities exist in the developing countries in Asia as well as in North America and Japan.  As an industry, we have done an admirable job in collectively increasing our marketing and promotions in our base markets of North America and Japan.

Developing and broadening our relationships in new emerging Asian markets will assist us in diversifying our market sources and enable us to expand tourism’s impact on our economy.

As James F. Smith, chief economist of Parsec Financial Management in North Carolina said “you have to get the Chinese people coming to Hawaii.  They are the way of the future.”  Indeed.

Kelvin Bloom

Hawaii Tourism Authority, Chairman

Aston Hotels & Resorts, President

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