Lingle goes to China to sell Hawaii as a tourism destination


HONOLULU — Gov. Linda Lingle will leave on Friday for a two-week excursion to China where she intends to sell Hawaii as a tourism destination and to bolster opportunities for the state’s products to be sold there.

The six-city trip, announced Wednesday at the state Capitol, will include meetings with Hainan Airlines, which recently won approval for at least one weekly nonstop flight from Beijing to Hawaii.

She also will hold talks with Chinese tourism authorities to promote Hawaii as a destination for millions of the country’s travelers, and with U.S. Ambassador Jon Huntsman about speeding up the visa process.

Lingle cast the trip, which will include meetings with Chinese energy officials on clean energy issues, in the context of a state that is suffering financial pains from a steep drop in revenues, particularly those related to tourism.

“We can’t just sit by and muddle through these very difficult times,” Lingle said during a news conference.

“This is our opportunity to continue to cement relationships for the state of Hawaii with one of the most important countries in the world, and the largest market for products and services that exists on the planet,” she added.

The average Chinese tourist in Hawaii spends about $283 a day, more than those from any other location, said Marsha Wienert, Lingle’s top tourism adviser.

The trip includes stops in Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Haikou, Sanya and Guangshou. At two events she will address travel writers, tour wholesalers, travel agents, and tourism officials, as well as meet with Shao Qiwei, the chairman of the Chinese National Tourism Administration.

Lingle also will hold talks with Rita Lau, a Hong Kong government cabinet secretary who handles tourism issues.

In Beijing, the governor will meet with officials of the Chinese Ministry of Commerce, which is planning to create a Hawaii products showroom. In Shanghai, she’ll consult organizers of a six-month exposition next year where Hawaii products could be featured. About 70 million visitors, the bulk of them Chinese residents, are expected to attend the expo.

Clean energy will be discussed at a Beijing meeting between Lingle and officials with the China Academy of Engineering and the National Reform and Development Commission, which are working on ambitious plans to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

Airfare to and from China of almost $1,900 each for the governor and Ted Liu, director of the state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism, will be paid by the state. Ground travel and accommodations will be financed by Chinese government agencies, though Lingle and Liu will pay their own expenses in Hong Kong.

On other topics, Lingle reiterated her opposition to emptying the state’s hurricane relief or other special funds to reduce furlough days of public school teachers, at least not until the spring of 2010 when she and the Legislature will have a better grasp on the state’s finances.

“It’s premature to take any money from the hurricane relief fund,” she said.

The funds are part of the reason ratings on the state’s bonds have not been downgraded, she said.

“We have a quarter of a billion dollars sitting that if things get really bad, we at least have it available to make certain that we would never default on bonds,” she said. Bond raters “know that it’s there.”