Passengers onboard the first regularly scheduled nonstop flight between China and Hawaii were welcomed to Oahu with Hawaiian music, hula and lei greetings Aug. 9, celebrating the debut of China Eastern Airlines’ twice-weekly Shanghai-Honolulu service.
“Since the signing of the memorandum of understanding in 2007, the HTA has been aggressively working to secure direct air service from China,” Mike McCartney, president and CEO of the Hawaii Tourism Authority, said in a statement. “Today’s landmark flight is wonderful news for Hawaii’s tourism economy, and we remain committed to supporting this new route and developing airlift to meet demand.”
The HTA said it expects more than 91,000 Chinese visitors in 2011, a jump of 37% year over year largely due to the new China Eastern flight. According to the HTA, Chinese visitors spend an average of $398 per day during Hawaii vacations, and the nonstop Shanghai-Honolulu route will add an estimated $60 million to the state’s economy annually.
Based in Shanghai, China Eastern has been operating since 1988 and connects to more than 110 cities around the world, and a substantial percentage of the travelers on its new, nine-hour nonstop to the Islands will likely book vacation packages with Chinese tour operators U-tour and Ctrip.
“Hawaiian holidays have been a dream for many Chinese, and Ctrip is committed to promoting Hawaii through various vacation packages,” Dongji Guo, vice president of Ctrip, said in a statement. “We truly appreciate the support we have received from the Hawaii government, the HTA and our industry partners here.”
At the moment, demand for the new route appears to be high.
“We’ve oversold the first six flights,” Max Zhang, a product manager for Ctrip, said in an Aug. 9 Honolulu Star Advertiser report. “August is a very popular travel time because it coincides with Qixi Festival, or Chinese Valentine's Day. About half of these travelers are honeymooners.”
Hawaii tourism officials certainly hope to maintain that momentum and grow the Chinese market in years to come. As the Star Advertiser noted, the World Tourism Organization estimates that China will become the fourth-largest source of outbound travel in the world by 2020, producing more than 100 million travelers annually.