Hawaii gearing up for Korean visitor increase

Hawaii tourism officials said President Bush's decision to lift visa requirements for South Korean tourists will dramatically increase visitor counts.

Now that South Koreans -- like the Japanese, Brits and citizens of other U.S. allies -- will no longer have to go through the hassle of obtaining visas before they travel to the U.S. for short-term visits, officials expect the number of tourists from South Korea to double to 80,000 next year and double again to 160,000 in 2010.

The Hawaii Tourism Authority has boosted its marketing efforts in South Korea in the past two years, creating a Korean language website through Hawaii Tourism Korea, an information outlet in heavily wired South Korea.

Oahu is likely to benefit the most from the rule change, state tourism officials said. Of the 40,000 Koreans who visited last year, the majority came to Oahu; a third also made short side trips to Maui.

Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia will also be added to the U.S. Visa Waiver program in December.

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