HONOLULU (KHNL) -- Help may be on the way for Hawaii's tourism industry from China. In fact, China has become one of the world's hottest outbound tourist markets, with more than 100 million people there, packing their bags each year.
Travel experts say the number of Chinese travelers visiting tourist spots such as Waikiki, could double as early as this summer, and with the Japanese market dwindling, analysts say Chinese tourism is the next potential pot of gold for our Rainbow State.
Tense political relations between China and the U.S. appear to be softening as they negotiate a plan to open travel gates between the two countries, with Hawaii as a prime tourist spot.
"We've been trying to fill the void in the drop in the Japanese visitor count for the last 8 years. Clearly, China has the most potential. 1.3 billion residents. I think half of 1% would more than fill any shortfalls we have," said Keith Vierra, Senior Vice President of Operations at Starwood Hotels and Resorts.
Air and Sea Travel, one of Hawaii's major Chinese tour operators, says the U.S. is trying to get what's called Approved Destination Status, or ADS from China. Once established, travel agencies in China will be allowed to sell U.S. tour packages, and Chinese travelers will have an easier time getting visas.
"When we have a meeting with the U.S. Embassy, they are only approving 40% for the people applying for a visa everyday so that means 60% of people have been rejected," said Henry Ou, Air and Sea Travel President.
"When you think of the upscale Chinese market, that's what's crucial for us, the number of wealthy people in China which would match well with Hawaii as a visitor destination," said Vierra.
Right now, the Hawaii Tourism Authority says Chinese visitors must have some kind of business or educational reason to come to Hawaii or the mainland for their visas to get approved. But HTA says those travel restrictions could be lifted as early as July.