HILO (AP) - Tourism experts are expecting a substantial influx of Chinese visitors to Hawaii.
"It's the market that everybody's been talking about," Big Island Visitors Bureau Director Ross Birch said. "Asian markets have seen huge increases in the last two or three years."
The market for Japanese tourists took nearly 20 years to develop, but Chinese tourism in Hawaii is expected to develop much more quickly, Birch said.
Air China is launching its inaugural nonstop service between Beijing and Honolulu three times a week. China Eastern Airlines has added more flights to Honolulu, for a total of five weekly flights out of Shanghai.
Hawaiian Airlines plans to begin its own nonstop service between Honolulu and Beijing in April.
"These flights will have a huge impact for us," said Helen Koo, owner of Hilo's Nani Mau Gardens and California-based travel agency America Asia Travel Center Inc.
Koo said she has invested more than $8 million in East Hawaii, largely in response to the growth of Chinese tourism there.
"Ninety percent of our clients are people from China," she said. "Yearly, we probably have about 100,000 visitors come to the U.S. from China."
Visitors on her tours go to places like Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Richardson Beach Park, a macadamia nut farm, orchid farms and Nani Mau Gardens.