Chinese Tourists in Hawai‘i
Dragon 'Em Around: We hopped on the bus with China’s pioneers of leisure travel to see Hawaii through their bleary eyes.
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For decades, the Chinese could travel to the United States only on business, as students or to visit family. The door opened to tourism for the sake of tourism in 2008, after the U.S. pledged to speed up the glacial pace of its visa processing, and China, in turn, granted the U.S. “approved destination status,” allowing Chinese visitors to come here for no better reason than to sightsee and shop. From 2008 to 2011 the number of Chinese visiting Hawaii climbed by more than 25,000.
Chinese Visitors per Island, 2011
Last August, China Eastern Airlines launched the first direct, regular air service from China to Hawaii, with 287-passenger flights arriving from Shanghai every Tuesday and Thursday. These are expected to push Chinese visitor numbers for 2012 above the 100,000 mark.
While the Japanese are still way out ahead, with 1.3 million travelers expected this year, the Chinese stats come with a footnote that has the visitor industry abuzz: the Chinese spend more. Way more. Last year that amounted to $382 per person per day—nearly $100 more than the Japanese, who have have traditionally been Hawaii’s biggest spenders.
Much of this spending is on luxury goods at high-end shops like Chanel, Tiffany & Co. and Gucci, brands which are available in China, but always with heavy tariffs and the spectre of the counterfeiter. “You can buy what looks like a Gucci bag in China,” says Frank Haas, dean of the hospitality, business and legal-education program at Kapiolani Community College, “and never really be sure it’s authentic.”
Hawaii’s tourism machine has been gearing up for this lucrative new market for some time now.
Delegations of high-ranking state officials frequently trek to China to promote tourism and trade. The Hawaii Tourism Authority has opened offices in Beijing and Shanghai, and launched a Chinese-language version of its website. The Bank of Hawaii has made arrangements with China’s largest issuer of bank cards, permitting electronic transactions with thousands of merchants throughout the Islands. Shops from Luxury Row in Waikiki to the factory outlets in Waikele have been staffing up with sales people fluent in Mandarin.