by Lt. Governor Duke Aiona
With the local economy a concern for many Big Island residents, our administration is focused on a series of interventions.
To create jobs and stimulate the economy, we have embarked on a five-point plan that includes increased tourism outreach and marketing.
In fact, I recently returned from a trip to Asia, where I met with executives from the visitor industry in South Korea and Japan.
A key goal was to promote travel to Hawai`i’s international airports in Kona, Hilo and Honolulu. The Big Island has been among the hardest hit so far by the national and international factors that are at the root of economic concerns statewide.
I am extremely encouraged by my meetings with airline executives in South Korea, where travelers are now eligible to visit our state under a new visa waiver program that was unveiled Nov. 17.
This opportunity comes more than a decade after our number of visitors from Korea peaked in 1996, when we saw 122,000 visitors.
After 1996, the Asia economy crashed, leading to a dramatic decrease in our visitors from Korea. In fact, we saw only 42,000 visitors from Korea last year.
But as a result of the new visa waiver program, we expect our number of visitors from Korea to double in the program’s first year, reaching 80,000. That total is expected to double again in 2010, hitting 160,000.
In response, our administration has asked airlines to increase their seat capacity. Already, Korean Air is adding 581 seats per week, which represents about a 28 percent increase in its overall capacity.
Also, leading tour groups in Asia have pledged their support to help us promote leisure travel to Hawai‘i, where the air seat capacity from Japan exceeds more than 29,000, with 74 percent of those seats from Tokyo.
The economic challenges in Hawai‘i largely stem from national and international factors.
And we are moving aggressively to address these economic challenges. We realize that we must not delay, or we will miss the “window of opportunity” to have a positive impact on Hawai`i’s economy through the end of the year.
That’s why we are doing all we can to nurture opportunities in such key markets as South Korea and Japan.