The hype was big on paper.

Find out “how to attract more Chinese visitors to Hawaii.” Learn “how Hawaii can best prepare for the vast potential of Chinese travel to Hawaii.”

That’s what was promised in an event flier for a dinner presentation Monday evening sponsored by the state’s Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism. The featured speakers were Luo Baoming, the governor of Hainan province, a tropical island off China’s southern coast, and Chen Feng, chairman of Hainan Airlines, China’s largest privately owned airline.

With nearly 200 people in attendance, the hype seemed to have worked in attracting people willing to pay $35 for a family-style Chinese dinner at the Lau Yee Chai restaurant in the Waikiki Shopping Plaza.

But very little, if any, specifics were shared on how Hawaii can tap into the growing Chinese visitor market — a lucrative visitor pool the state has yet to cultivate. Instead, the conversation focused mostly on Hainan Airlines’ stalled plans to launch weekly Honolulu-to-Beijing routes this year.

If anything, it seemed like the visitors were more interested in what they could learn from Hawaii.

“I want to learn from Hawaii how to build Hainan into a real tourist destination especially in the areas of education and theme park projects,” Baoming’s translator conveyed. “Hainan is trying to build up tourism as the dominant industry.”

Yet the audience seemed OK with the lack of specifics. Judging by comments made when the the mic was opened up to the public, people were eager to figure out why there are no direct flights between China and Hawaii and what they can do to help make them happen. But there were no real answers.

“Our guests were making good suggestions,” Ted Li, former president of the Chinese Chamber of Commerce of Hawaii and owner of Crack Seed Center in Ala Moana Center, said following the event. “Our state should form a committee that makes monthly reports to get this flight launched.”

Baoming and Feng are in Honolulu to attend the Asia Pacific Clean Energy Summit being held this week at the Hawaii Convention Center. The Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism is sponsoring that event as well.

Neither man speaks fluent English. They had translators relay their messages to the crowd. Baoming, wearing a navy blue aloha shirt, took the stage first around 8:15 p.m. after an introduction by DBEDT Director Ted Liu.

Baoming noted that Hawaii and Hainan have had a sister-state/province relationship since 1992 and that aside from coming to Honolulu to attend the clean energy summit, he’s here to “strengthen the ties between Hainan and Hawaii, especially through opening direct flights.”

But that statement was as far as he went on the topic. He went on to share his itinerary and explained that Honolulu was one of several stops he’ll be making over the next 12 days.

He did share statistics about Hainan, noting that the province’s GDP grew by 19.5 percent during the first six months of the year and that visitors to Hainan increased by 17 percent during the same period.

No Mention of How Hawaii Can Attract Chinese Visitors

China’s outbound travelers reportedly will hit 52 million this year, up 7 percent from 2009. Only a tiny fraction of those visitors came to Hawaii last year. A total of 45,000 Chinese visited Hawaii in 2009. That compares to 1.1 million visitors from Japan in 2009.

Chen took the mic next dressed in a red and black collared Chinese dress shirt. He attempted a greeting in English before his translator stepped in.

Chen seemed to entertain the audience, making jokes in Chinese, which must have lost their meaning in translation.

He recalled meeting with Gov. Linda Lingle, who was in attendance, during a state-sponsored visit to Hainan in 2009.

“She told me before she leaves her position as governor of Hawaii, her dream is to realize a China-to-Hawaii flight,” Chen’s translator conveyed. “Gov. Lingle’s dream touched us and the purpose of this trip is to do preparation work for a direct flight. Hainan Airlines has courage to open this direct flight.”

The carrier, the fourth-largest airline in China with annual revenues of $14 billion, had previously announced plans to begin flying this year from Honolulu to Beijing three times a week. Chen didn’t give reasons for the stall, but listed three “suggestions” to move forward:

“One, the two sides need to make a working timetable,” he said. “Both sides need to work on details of opening this flight. After Gov. Lingle visited Hainan, I saw that the lifestyle in Hawaii is slow. I hope we can move faster.

“Second, we ask our friends from Hawaii to share the risk with us. We grew up as a small company, we are scared of risk. I know that CEOs in U.S. are very generous in spending money, but we are not like that.

“Three, we have to make more promotion for the route between China and Hawaii,” he said. “The Hawaii state government can give this task to Hainan Airlines. We can spend $1 and make $10 back for promotion.”

That ended his speech. He took a few questions and comments from the audience.

When asked to expand on his comment that Hawaii needs to “share the risk” to get direct service launched, Chen said: “For the beginning flights, travel agents or friends should help guarantee the seats or sell the seats. I’ll give a good price. There’s lots of room for discussion.”

Another person asked what Hawaii can learn from Hainan Airlines’ launching four-times-a-week service between Beijing and Seattle in June 2009. (An estimated 75,000 passengers travel to and from China through Seattle each year.)

Chen said he wasn’t exactly sure how it came to fruition, but noted that the airline is receiving landing fee discounts at the airport — something Liu at DBEDT said won’t work in Hawaii.

The presentation provided a glimpse into the business culture in China.

“Between the U.S. and China in general, there’s often a clash of approaches to doing business,” Liu said after the event. “A lot of what (Feng) is saying stems from the Asian way people lead and organize business and the fact that market and industry listens to government. That creates expectations that can’t be met. Chinese companies expect governments to play a proactive role and have resources to offer.”

“Chen has the ability and he’s determined,” Liu continued. “We need to figure out creative ways — upstream, downstream — to take this past the goal line. We need industry to be creative and come up with ideas to develop this market to share the risks and fill the seats back to Hainan.”

To that point, Li, the former chamber president, suggested Hawaii could help attract mainland visitors to stopover in Hawaii before flying to China, and that Hainan Airlines could offer special discounts for those outbound flights.

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