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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Visitors are asking: 'Why no gambling?'

By Alan Yonan
Advertiser Staff Writer

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Chinese, S. Korean tourists cite lack of wagering, inadequate Waikiki nightlife.

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Chinese and South Korean tourists love Hawai'i's beaches, culture, historical sites and other visitor attractions.

What would make their vacation experience even more enjoyable, they say, would be a chance to cap a day of sightseeing with an evening of gambling, according to a survey conducted by the Waikiki Improvement Association.

Visitors from China and South Korea polled at the end of their visits generally had favorable impressions of their vacations in the Islands, but cited a number of areas that could use improvement, including more even-ing entertainment in Waikīkī, according to the survey.

While they said Hawai'i should not be marketed as a gambling destination "there was enthusiastic agreement from both visitor markets that gambling as a limited entertainment activity marketed after arrival could greatly influence the level of satisfaction regarding their visit to Hawai'i and the possibility of them returning here," the Waikiki Improvement Association said in a news release.

Bills to legalize gambling in Hawai'i have surfaced over the years as a way to boost tax revenue and the economy, but the latest attempts to allow casinos here were shelved in the Legislature last month.

Although the number of visitors from South Korea and China are few relative to those from larger foreign markets like Japan and Canada, local tourism officials say their numbers have been increasing in recent years and represent a growth opportunity.

Last year, when overall visitor arrivals slumped by 4.5 percent, the number of South Korean tourists climbed by 44 percent to 49,271. The number of Chinese visitors fell by 16.9 percent to 26,399 but remained above the historical trend.

The number of Japanese visitors last year was about 1.1 million, while 339,000 visitors came from Canada.

"The most important thing from this research is that tourists from both China and Korea say they feel Hawai'i is a unique and desirable place to visit and that they would recommend us to their friends back home," said Rich Egged, president of the Waikiki Improvement Association.

The point of the survey was to identify ways Waikīkī could be me made more desirable, especially for Chinese and Korean visitors, Egged said in a news release. The association represents businesses in Waikīkī.

Asked what could be done to improve their visit to Hawai'i, travelers from both countries said reduce the amount of time it takes to clear immigration at Honolulu International Airport, hire more visitor-industry workers in Waikīkī who speak their native tongues , and have more signs in their languages. They additionally groused about the quality of local Chinese and Korean restaurants, according to the study.

"However, the biggest complaint by the tourists was a lack of entertainment in Waikīkī," according to the news release.

"They have seen what is available during their first visit and indicate that there is not enough to do in the evening and to return they will need more in the future," the study said.

"When asked to better define the desired evening entertainment, there is little concensus, with one exception gambling."

Local business leaders also were polled for the study, the majority of whom "are opposed to the gambling entertainment option due to its potential negative impact on local residents."

The study was conducted by SMS Research and Marketing Services, a Honolulu-based travel research company. It was based on interviews with travelers, travel agents and local business leaders.