Rep. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) spoke about her recently introduced Visit USA Act, a bill in the House co-sponsored by Rep. David Dreier (R-Calif.), at a gathering in Waikiki Jan. 8, touting the legislation’s potential impact on the Aloha State’s largest industry.
“The Pacific region is a vast market for new visitors,” Hirono said. “Reforming our visa process is a cost-effective, common-sense way to make it easier and more inviting for international businesses and tourists to come to Hawaii and the U.S. It’s why this is an idea both Democrats and Republicans are behind.”
The legislation would create five-year, multiple-entry visas for Chinese visitors and extend the amount of time Canadian retirees can stay in the U.S. to 240 days (up from 180 days), renewable every three years, along with other visa waiver program changes and reforms intended to increase tourism across the country.
According to data provided by Hirono’s staff, 54 million Chinese citizens traveled internationally in 2010, and 3.7 million of them made trips to Europe, but the U.S. welcomed only 800,000 Chinese visitors that year. Chinese citizens interested in traveling to the U.S. currently can apply for a one-year, multiple-entry visa.
Around 62,000 Chinese travelers and more than 400,000 Canadians visited Hawaii in 2010.
“Other countries are aggressively pooling their national resources and staking a larger claim in the international tourism industry,” said Roy Yamaguchi, a board member of Brand USA, formerly the Corporation for Travel Promotion. “With Brand USA promoting the greatest destination in the world, efforts to increase the ability of travelers to come here allows us to achieve great things for the U.S. economy.”
Hirono said the Visit USA Act could lead to nearly 300,000 new visitors to Hawaii annually, most of which she expects to come from China. According to the Hawaii Tourism Authority, Chinese travelers spend an average of $350 a day in the state, and the additional arrivals from that market could generate up to $573 million annually for the destination.
China Eastern Airlines inaugurated the first scheduled nonstop flight connecting China and Hawaii last August, offering twice-weekly service between Shanghai and Honolulu.
The Visit USA Act legislation has also been introduced in the U.S. Senate, co-sponsored by Sens. Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii), Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.).