Lingle discusses China visas with Ridge
By Mike Gordon
Advertiser Staff Writer
The Lingle administration is working with government officials in China to lift restrictions that prevent ordinary Chinese tourists from traveling freely to Hawai'i, the governor said at a joint news conference with Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge.
Lingle said Hawai'i needs to become a "destination city" for China and spoke to Ridge this morning about the idea. Ridge seemed supportive.
"I pledge to work with the Commerce Department to see if we can do anything to accomplish that goal," Ridge said.
Under current agreements with China, Chinese tourists cannot simply book flights to Hawai'i, Lingle said.
"In order to travel outside of China as a tourist, you are only permitted to go to those places that have an approved destination site status," Lingle told reporters. "Hawai'i is not an approved destination site, and our Department of Economic Development and our tourism liaison are working closely with China to carve out Hawai'i as an exception."
Such an exception would only apply to Hawai'i and not anywhere else in the country, Lingle said. Her administration will work on this throughout the year, she said.
The difficulty Chinese citizens have in obtaining visas could hinder the flow of Chinese tourists, she said. Chinese business travelers already can visit Hawai'i, but they, too, have trouble obtaining visas, she said.
The visa problem just led to the cancellation of a meeting of the Worldwide Chinese Life Insurance Congress scheduled for August at the Hawai'i Convention Center. Convention center officials learned in the past couple of weeks that the group wasn't able to attract enough delegates to the convention because of difficulty getting visas and decided to cancel, said the center's general manager Joe Davis.
"From a tourism industry standpoint it certainly is a problem," said Rex Johnson, executive director of the Hawai'i Tourism Authority.
Tourism liaison Marsha Wienert said she hopes the group can be rescheduled for 2006, "because hopefully by 2006 we'll have some of these things worked out."
Advertiser staff writer Kelly Yamanouchi contributed to this report.
Reach Mike Gordon at email@example.com or 525-8012.