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Hawaii Preparing Tourism for Asian Vsitors
Scenic view of Hawaii islands.

HONOLULU— Hawaii tourism officials want workers in the hospitality industry to learn the customs and cultures of China and South Korea, which are expected to be the state's next big sources of foreign arrivals.

The Hawaii Tourism Authority plans to launch a cultural training program later this year so industry workers can better serve tourists from the two Asian nations, said Muriel Anderson, vice president, tourism product development with HTA.

Anderson said Kapi'olani Community College, which offers degrees in hospitality and tourism, is currently putting together a proposal for the program.

Money for the program would come out of the tourism authority's budget for workforce initiatives, she said.

"We want to provide information about the expectation of visitors from these markets and what we can do to better service them," Anderson said. "Pretty much like we did years ago for the Japanese market."

Hawaii tourism officials are looking to China and South Korea to help offset continuing declines in the number of visitors from Japan, the state's largest source of foreign tourists.

The interest in those markets comes at a time when the overall number of tourists to Hawai'i is also declining behind a sputtering U.S. economy and rising fuel costs. Nearly 7.4 million visitors came to the Islands last year, a drop of 1.2 percent from 2006.

Officials are forecasting a further decline this year.

The number of Japanese visitors has also gone down since a peak of nearly 2.2 million in 1997. Last year, about 1.3 million Japanese visitors came to Hawai'i and fewer are expected this year.

State officials are hopeful the federal government will add South Korea to its list of visa waiver countries, which includes Japan. They say that could see the annual number of South Koreans visiting the state — currently around 35,000 — quadruple over the next few years.

The state is also expecting more travelers from China.

"The visitor industry needs to be ready when they come," said Ron Umehira, chairman of the Hospitality and Tourism Education program at Kapi'olani Community College.

Umehira said the college introduced a course in Japanese language and culture about a decade ago to meet industry demands for workers familiar with Japan.

The semester-long course teaches students Japanese phrases and etiquette, such as handing customers change on a tray and not directly by hand.

The South Korean and Chinese courses the college is developing for its HTA proposal would be similar, Umehira said. The proposal will also include an abbreviated Japanese course, he said.

The courses would likely be offered to industry workers at hotel sites, he said.

"There are cultural nuances that we as people that live here are not aware of," said Marsha Wienert, state tourism liaison. "It's important to us as an industry to prepare our product to meet the demands of those market segments."

Murray Towill, president of the Hawaii Hotel & Lodging Association, said he welcomed the program, calling it a "valuable step" to prepare for visitors from South Korea and China.






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