Hawaii underserves Chinese visitors: airline CEO
HONOLULU — The CEO of Hawaiian Airlines says Hawaii’s hospitality industry must do more to make Chinese visitors feel welcome.
Mark Dunkerley told a retailers’ convention on Thursday that the state is unprepared for the potential number of Chinese visitors the state could receive. A survey found that Chinese visitors do not see Hawaii as a friendly destination, he said.
“We start at ground zero in relative terms,” Dunkerley said. “And the very same exercise of building a visitor experience which appeals to the Chinese visitor, who is very different than the Japanese visitor, is as much a task and a challenge today to the Chinese as it was in the ’70s and ’80s as we started getting the Japanese visitor coming.”
The Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported that Dunkerley noted several obstacles for Hawaii to tap into the potentially vast Chinese market. Those include a lack of mid- and low-priced hotels, not enough promotion in China and too few Mandarin speakers in Waikiki.
“For us to be a good destination of Chinese visitors, the level at which Mandarin-speaking services are available in the community has got to expand dramatically,” he said. “It’s got to be represented in the restaurants, not just on the menu, but also in the ability of wait staff to speak in Mandarin. It’s got to be represented in small boutique retail and hotel reception.”
Dunkerley said Japanese visitors to Hawaii last year outnumbered Chinese visitors more than 10-to-1. But he notes that China’s enormous population and prosperity hold promise. Chinese visitors’ average spending in the state was the most of any region, at $397.30 per day.
Hawaiian Airlines last week inaugurated thrice-daily nonstop flights to Beijing. Dunkerley said the challenge in selling tickets is wrapped up in Hawaii’s reputation in China, which he says the whole industry needs to address.
“The Chinese represent the economic salvation of the state tourism business over the long term,” he said. “I’m not talking about next year. I’m talking about 10 years and 20 years from now, and it won’t be a flash in the pan. It’s a permanent shift.”