Direct Beijing-to-Honolulu air service begins
Updated On: Jan 21 2014 06:58:31 AM HST
Hawaii now has a direct connection with Beijing, as weekly scheduled non-stop flights have begun between the two cities.
The additional flights will not only allow more Chinese visitors to see the islands, they'll also help Hawaii tap into a rapidly growing tourism market.
Monday afternoon, Hawaiian music filled a second floor corner of the Honolulu airport.
Arriving Air China passengers were greeted with lei and lots of aloha. Even the governor stopped by with a welcome.
"Tell them your friend Gov. Abercrombie says hello from Hawaii and invites your President Xi Jinping to visit us in Hawaii," said Gov. Neil Abercrombie.
Hawaii's leader and top tourism personnel rolled out the red carpet for the 270 travelers because they are part of a very coveted group of visitors.
"There's a lot of competition out there from around the world, a lot of people want Chinese visitors. So we have to work hard to make sure we can compete with all the competing markets around the world," said Mike McCartney, with the Hawaii Tourism Authority.
Hawaii welcomed more than 123,000 visitors from China last year. With the increase in new direct flights from Beijing, those numbers are expected to really take off this year.
"We project about 180,000 visitors from China. It's a developing market, and we hope to grow it over time like we have done with other Asian countries in the past," said McCartney.
To get here, the passengers took an eleven hour flight that was more than 5,000 miles long.
Many were drawn to the islands, like visitors from other parts of the world, because of the natural beauty found here.
"I like the sunshine, the waves and the beautiful things of Hawaii," said Chinese traveler Xia Wei.
While it may be their first time to the islands, some already have a long list of things to see and do while they are here.
"I want to see Hilo, Diamond Head, the seaside and the food," said Angela Zhao.
Chinese visitors, on average, spend the most of any oftraveler, nearly $400 a day.
With hundreds more arriving every two to three days on the newly scheduled flights, they are expected to spend about $80 million here in 2014. That additional money could make a difference on the economy.
"This is a big big deal. On the governor's level, we are working to get this visa travel waiver, so we can get lots more visitors coming," said Abercrombie.
According to McCartney, the additional Chinese travelers will help diversify Hawaii's tourism reach - so a drop in visitors from other parts of the world would not have as big of an impact here.
Along with the new Air China flights, China Eastern Airlines and Hawaiian Airlines also plan to expand flights to China this year.
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