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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, April 4, 2006

Hawai'i, China sign tourism agreement

By Sean Hao
Advertiser Staff Writer

Chinese Vice Premier Wu Yi met with Gov. Linda Lingle and local tourism business leaders during a visit here. The highlight of the trip was the signing of an agreement that Hawai'i officials hope will eventually lead to more Chinese tourists traveling to the Islands.

JEFF WIDENER | The Honolulu Advertiser

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State officials yesterday rolled out the red carpet for about 150 Chinese officials and business leaders including Chinese Vice Premier Wu Yi.

Wu, one of China's four vice premiers, stopped in Hawai'i en route to Washington, D.C., to attend trade talks with United States officials. During her short stay the vice premier met with Gov. Linda Lingle, while other Chinese delegates discussed international investment and tourism issues with about 120 local business leaders and others during a seminar at the Hilton Hawaiian Village.

Wu also attended an evening reception hosted by Lingle at Washington Place. Wu's decision to meet with Hawai'i officials during her layover was a result of Chinese connections created during various state business development missions to China in recent years, said Lingle spokesman Russell Pang.

"She could have easily bypassed Hawai'i or just stopped and not meet with the governor," Pang said. "But we worked with them to arrange this seminar and tonight's event and the signing of the cooperative agreement."

For state officials the highlight of the trip was the signing of a Memorandum of Cooperation with the China National Tourism Administration. Hawai'i has signed at least 30 such memorandums with foreign governments or trade groups, according to the Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism, which is helping to coordinate the visit.

Though non-binding, such agreements can have meaning, said Charles Morrison, president of the East-West Center.

"You can say it's a first step," he said. "It sets the framework for cooperation.

"There's other steps that have to be taken from there" for such agreements to generate results, Morrison said.

Hawai'i officials hope such agreements ultimately may bolster the state's visitor industry. However, progress on resolving visa issues for Chinese tourists remains slow and any significant increase in Chinese visitors to Hawai'i hinges on the United States and China relaxing visa requirements.

Despite such issues the Chinese visitor market remains an attractive source for future business for Hawai'i businesses.

"Yes, we are and have been very interested in China as a source of business for our hotels," said Jon Conching, the vice president of sales & marketing for Hilton Hawaii. "We have dedicated sales staff to keep abreast of what is happening in the market.

"The obvious challenge with the market from China is the process of securing a visa to enter the U.S.," Conching said in a written statement.

"Other countries have seen huge increases in visitor counts from China in recent years and it appears to be just a matter of time when the U.S. and Chinese governments work out a reasonable compromise on the issues."

For Hawai'i taxpayers last night's invitation-only reception at Washington Place for 250 to 300 people was expected to cost the state $7,600.

That's well below the $15,780 spent on a reception at Washington Place last October for the governor of China's Guangdong province. That included $1,169 spent framing and refitting artwork for the event.

Unlike last night's event the cost of the Guangdong reception along with $1,705 spent for a July reception for Chinese State Councilor Tang Jiaxuan at Ko Olina Resort and Marina were paid by the nonprofit Pacific and Asian Affairs Council.

The Pacific and Asian Affairs Council received those funds from Ko Olina and other sponsors of a state trade mission to China last summer.

Reach Sean Hao at shao@honoluluadvertiser.com.