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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted at 11:12 a.m., Friday, June 17, 2005

Lingle wants more South Korean tourists

Associated Press

SEOUL, South Korea — Hawai'i Gov. Linda Lingle today said she wants to see more South Koreans visit the islands which are still feeling the impact of the Asian financial crisis and the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

"Korea is a key target for Hawai'i tourism with great potential for growth," Lingle told a news conference in Seoul.

Lingle is leading a 50-member delegation of Hawai'i state officials and business people on a trip to promote the island state. The trip began in China on June 9.

She said that 40,000 South Koreans visited Hawai'i last year and the state wants to increase that to 44,000 in 2005.

That's sharply lower than the 120,000 South Koreans who traveled to Hawai'i in 1997, the year the Asian financial crisis started in Thailand and later spread to other economies in the region including South Korea's.

Despite the drop in numbers, South Koreans are still the second biggest group of foreign visitors to the islands behind Japan, with approximately 1.5 million, said Rex Johnson, president and CEO of the Hawaii Tourism Authority. He and a group of Hawai'i business leaders are traveling with Lingle.

Lingle said she hoped that South Korea would eventually be included in the U. S. visa waiver program which would mean tourists would not need to apply for a visa ahead of their trip.

The visa issue was also brought up during a luncheon with South Korean Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon.

"We are making full efforts to meet the standards of the (visa waiver) program," Ban said in a speech, adding that the 3 percent rejection rate for South Korean visa applicants to the United States was "commendable."

Lingle will travel to the South Korean island of Jeju tomorrow, followed on Sunday by a visit to the Demilitarized Zone dividing North and South Korea to meet soldiers from Hawai'i serving there before she departs for Honolulu.