Shane Nelson
Shane Nelson

InsightHawaii tourism officials are understandably upbeat about the potential of a nonstop flight between Honolulu and China, linking the Aloha State directly with one of Asia’s most coveted emerging markets.

In a June 15 announcement, Hawaii Tourism Authority officials said China Eastern Airlines was working with the Hawaii Department of Transportation to establish service between Oahu and Shanghai beginning Aug. 9.

“We’re cautiously optimistic because of the starts and stops we’ve had in this market,” said David Uchiyama, vice president of brand management for the HTA, citing frustrations resulting from failed negotiations with Hainan Airlines in recent years. “Until they’re taking off on that end and landing here, there’s always something that could come into play that could disrupt, but I think this one is progressing along quite well.”

Uchiyama said the proposed China Eastern service will likely accommodate about 160 passengers twice a week. Although the resulting visitors won’t have a huge impact on the destination’s overall arrivals figure, the nonstop service is seen as a vital first step.

“Our mantra has been that creating ease of access is going to help develop any of our markets, and I think this is going to be very true with the direct flights to China,” Uchiyama said. “I think it’s going to stimulate the market and increase interest, [and] I think the direct service is just going to make Hawaii that much more attractive.”

Diversifying the destination’s source markets continues to be a priority for the HTA. Following this spring’s Japan disaster, the organization authorized increased marketing funds for promotions in several new U.S. cities along with additional exposure in Asia, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. According to Uchiyama, those efforts are paying off.

“Load factors have been pretty healthy out of North America,” he said. “I think we’re going to start to see a couple of carriers enter the market in the second half of the year — mostly out of Asia and possibly Australia, and an increase in charter service from other markets.”

In terms of mainland visitor totals, “We’re still exceeding the previous year, but not at the same pace that we were for the first four months of this year,” Uchiyama said. “Gas prices are weighing into it, definitely, because they take away from discretionary funds, but I think it’s really the economy as a whole.”
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