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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, March 17, 2010

S. Korea tourists on rise

By Alan Yonan Jr.
Advertiser Staff Writer

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

While the overall number of visitors fell by 4.5 percent last year, arrivals from South Korea soared by 44 percent.


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The popularity of Hawai'i vacations among South Koreans has grown so fast over the past year that hundreds of packages to the Islands sell during a one-hour TV home shopping program.

Following the relaxation of visa restrictions in the fall of 2008 local tourism industry officials ramped up their marketing effort in South Korea, splashing images of Hawai'i across everything from TV to Web sites to bus stops.

The effort has paid dividends, with visitor arrivals from South Korea soaring to 54,957 in 2009, a 44 percent increase over the previous year. The jump was particularly notable because it occurred at a time when overall outbound travel from South Korea fell by 21 percent, said Michael Merner, managing director of Hawai'i Tourism Asia, the agency responsible for marketing Hawai'i in all Asian countries excluding Japan.

"We've had as many as 700 to 800 packages sold in a one-hour show," said Emily Kim, travel trade marketing director for Hawai'i Tourism Korea, a branch of Hawai'i Tourism Asia. Offering Hawai'i travel packages for sale on the country's home shopping network has been one of the more successful marketing strategies in South Korea, she said. "Hawai'i Tourism Asia is the only marketer doing that in Korea," she said.

Data for January and February show the trend continuing, Merner said, adding that Hawai'i Tourism Asia is forecasting a 35 percent increase in South Korean visitors this year. Although the 2010 target "is extremely ambitions" it is achievable given the "significant pent-up demand" among South Koreans who want to travel abroad now that the global economic crisis is easing, he said.

Kim, who is based in Seoul, and Tokyo-based Merner are in Honolulu for the Hawai'i Tourism Authority's semiannual marketing update today at the Hawai'i Convention Center. Hawai'i Tourism Asia is one of five marketing partners contracted by the HTA to pitch Hawai'i as a visitor destination across the globe.

The marketing partners are meeting with industry players, including hotel general managers, visitor attraction companies, retailers and transportation firms to discuss their marketing plans for 2011. The partners will get feedback and develop their plans during the summer to be presented at another conference in the fall.

Last year's sharp increase in South Korean visitors came at a time when declines in Hawai'i's top five visitor markets contributed to an overall 4.5 percent drop in visitor arrivals. Arrivals from Japan, a mainstay for the local tourism industry, fell by 4.9 percent to 1.1 million visitors.

South Korea has the highest economic growth projections among the world's top 30 industrialized countries one reason for the optimistic projection for South Korean visitors this year, Merner said "A recent survey showed that more than half the population of the country say they want to go overseas this year, which is an incredible number."

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