Visa waiver for South Korea to boost Hawaii tourism - Hawaii News Now - KGMB and KHNL

Visa waiver for South Korea to boost Hawaii tourism

Gina Kim Nakamura Gina Kim Nakamura
Marsha Weinert Marsha Weinert

By Mari-Ela David - bio | email

WAIKIKI (KHNL) - You can expect to see more visitors flying to Hawaii, after President Bush makes an announcement that'll change the face of our island's tourism market.

The Bush administration has decided to tack on South Korea and six other nations to its list of countries that are part of the Visa Waiver Program.

It allows citizens from those select countries to travel to the United States, without a non-immigrant visitor visa.

The visa waiver has Hawaii's Korean community celebrating.

Hawaii's tourist traffic will soon include more travelers from Korea, after the Bush Administration waives visa requirements for South Korea.

"I was so excited. In fact, I was screaming! I called Mr. Kang, Mr. Kang! You did it, you did it! I was so excited!" said Gina Kim Nakamura, Hawaii Korean Chamber of Commerce President.

Austin Kang spear headed the Korean Visa Waiver Committee in Hawaii.

"I was so excited and that's what we have been waiting for the past 5 and a half years," says Kang.

The Aloha State sees about 45,000 to 50,000 Korean visitors every year. Nakamura says those numbers are expected to skyrocket to 200,000 within the next couple of years.

"Initially, I don't see immediate results because of the financial turmoil going on, which is affecting Korea but this will stabilize in a few months," said Nakamura.

The boost in tourism also means a boost in the economy.

"The visa waiver will help us in regards to tourism, but it will also open the door for investment opportunities, for free of trade between the U.S. and Korea," said Marsha Weinert, State Tourism Liason.

"Without a visa, we can have business, you know the people who live here and we can visit our families and relatives who live in the U.S.," said Kang.

The visa waiver does have limits.

"This visa waiver is only for tourists and business only, not employment, not language school or nothing else," said Kang.

The length of stay in the U.S. under the visa waiver program is up to three months.

Kang launched the korean visa waiver committee in 2003. He was so passionate about having Congress add Korea to its list of countries in the visa waiver program that he wrote a visa waiver song.

Part of the lyrics translate, "Homely land, paradise Hawaii, waiver our visa, we count the days to come our hope and prayer, join hands go forward."

Other nations added to the Visa Waiver Program include the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Lithuania.

Congress created the program in 1986.

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