Visa issues keep thousands of Chinese tourists from Hawaii

HONOLULU (AP) — Rejected visa applications are keeping thousands of Chinese tourists from visiting Hawaii.

More than 2,000 of the 6,000 Nu Skin distributors in China and Hong Kong that were planning to attend a conference in Hawaii were not able to attend because of visa troubles, The Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported. The convention of the direct marketing company that sells personal care products next month is slated to be Hawaii’s largest incentive travel group from China.

Typically, 10 percent to 15 percent of visa applicants for large groups traveling to Hawaii get denied, but the Nu Skin rate was significantly higher.

Hawaii and other U.S. cities looking to increase Chinese tourism have been working with the U.S. Travel Association to advocate for visa improvements. Since a 2011 China U.S. Tourism Leadership Summit was held in Kailua-Kona, reductions in visa processing times and the introduction of nonstop flights and longer-term visas helped spark growth.

Some travel officials say they are concerned about the Trump administration’s effect on travel. Reene Ho-Phang, managing director of Hawaii Tourism China, said the executive order limiting travel from specific regions of the Middle East and Africa may not be aimed at Asia, but it still creates unease for Chinese visitors who fear travel restrictions could worsen.

“Everyone is keenly awaiting a meeting next month between China’s President Xi Jinping and President Trump,” Ho-Phang said.

Ho-Phang said the issues with the Nu Skin conference has alerted other would-be tourists of the stress of getting a visa.

“We’ve observed that group demand has cascaded a bit. Word has spread in the industry, and it’s impacting other groups. Some are postponing group bookings by a year,” Ho-Phang said.

The Hawaii Tourism Authority has estimated that if all of the Nu Skin members had come to Hawaii, it would have added $15.9 million in corporate spending into the state and generated $1.9 million in taxes. Instead, Nu Skin sent about 2,000 incentive winners to Bali, Indonesia, reducing the group’s benefit to Hawaii.

The state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism has forecast that 2017 arrivals from China will increase 2 percent to 173,479, while spending is expected to rise slightly more than 6 percent to $434 million-plus.

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