SEOUL (HawaiiNewsNow) - The escalating tension between North and South Korea is being closely monitored by Hawaii's visitor industry.
South Korea is emerging as a highly sought after tourism market.
The first immigrants from Korea arrived in Hawaii to work in the sugar cane fields in 1903.
Now, more than a century later, the number of visitors making the 4,500 mile journey is taking off.
"Hawaii Tourism Korea expects 95,000 travelers to visit Hawaii this year. This shows an 85 percent increase compared to last year," Hawaii Tourism Korea PR and marketing manager Julia Koo said.
The main reason for the surge is the U.S. visa waiver program, which relaxed restrictions for South Korean visitors in 2008.
Fears about the H1N1 virus have also eased and the country's economy is recovering.
But only Korean Air offers non-stop service to Hawaii.
In June, the carrier added three flights to boost its daily service between Seoul and Honolulu.
"The airline seat supply was not sufficient. That's the big problem first to promote that destination," HANATOUR VP of global sales and marketing Hyun-Syuk Choi said.
Now, Hawaiian Airlines will be starting direct flights to and from Seoul beginning Jan. 12.
Company officials have been busy meeting with travel agencies to help promote the launch.
"We already introduced a Korean website and we will introduce Twitter in Korean, and many things will be prepared," GSA Korea of Hawaiian Airlines Chanho Hong said.
Hawaiian Airlines plans to initially offer four direct flights a week between Honolulu and Incheon Airport. If all goes well, the company could eventually provide daily service.
"It means that we can make more flexible and more competitive market from our side. Very positive for us," Hong said.
Hawaii Tourism Korea published a free guidebook and recently started a website in Korean.
HTK says it's using an aggressive marketing and advertising campaign to target different types of visitors.
Honeymooners and individual travelers make up 30 to 40 percent of the tourists heading to Hawaii.
"We have a common rate to neighbor islands because honeymooners want to visit neighbor islands," Hong said.
The goal is to ensure a warm welcome in paradise to keep the visitors coming back for more.
"The spirit of aloha, showing great hospitality, and being warm-hearted, are also attractive to Koreans, making them want to return to Hawaii," Koo said.
HTK expects next year's numbers to be even better with tourists from South Korea generating about $140 million in revenue for the state.