HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA), welcomed the first regularly-scheduled direct flight from China to Hawaii Tuesday morning.
The China Eastern Airlines flight establishes the first direct regular service between Hawaii and China following the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding in 2007. That agreement allows Chinese groups and leisure travel to the U.S.
The flight arrived at Honolulu International Airport around 9:30 a.m.
The Hawaii Tourism Authority projects that more than 91,000 visitors from China are to arrive this year. The 271 passengers aboard the non-stop flight included 18 members of the Chinese media.
They emerged from Customs to a welcome reception that included a floral lei, a small carton of passion orange-guava juice, hula, and a personal greeting from Gov. Neil Abercrombie.
"These folks coming in on a regularly scheduled basis, I think, is the beginning of a new relationship between China and Hawaii," Abercrombie said.
Most of the travelers made their arrangements through two tour companies, which put together three-night and seven-night tour packages for the visitors.
"(We) want to visit some attractions, famous attractions, including the beach," said visitor Wang Hai Xia, through a translator.
"We are very happy to come to Hawaii," said Wang's husband, Ge Yong, also through the translator. "We wanted to know about the culture of Hawaii." Ge also said the trip would be a chance for their daughter, Ge Ruxin, to practice her English.
"I think the islands are very beautiful," Ge Ruxin said. "And I can relax here."
The flight follows a successful series of charter flights from Shanghai earlier this year. It's estimated having regularly scheduled service will result in $60 million a year in visitor spending.
"Globally, Chinese visitors spend the most per person, per day," said HTA president and CEO Mike McCartney. "And so that's good for Hawaii, creating jobs and opportunity."
China Eastern Airlines will fly between Shanghai and Honolulu on Tuesdays and Fridays.