HONOLULU (AP)- The number of Chinese travelers to Hawaii surged 43 percent during the first half of this year, making China the fastest growing market for the state's visitor industry.
But the organization that promotes Hawaii in China says this pace will lag if airlines don't add more flights linking the two places.
Hawaii Tourism Asia Managing Director Michael Merner told industry professionals at a tourism conference Friday that his organization is doing everything possible to encourage China Eastern Airlines to add a fourth regularly scheduled flight to Honolulu from Shanghai.
The company launched its first flight to Hawaii in August 2011. It plans to add a third in December, and may add a fourth in April.
Merner said China Eastern's flights were 97 percent full last month. There's no question the airline will add flights, he said. It's just a question of how quickly.
Hawaii welcomed more than 49,000 visitors from China in the first six months of 2012. That's a sharp increase from the previous year, but still few compared with the state's largest foreign market, Japan. More than 600,000 visitors from Japan came to Hawaii in the first half of the year.
Merner said Hawaiian Airlines now has sales agents in Shanghai and Beijing. He said Hawaii Tourism Asia also was encouraging Hawaiian to test the waters by operating some charter flights next year.
Chinese people also are spending more time in Hawaii than they used to because more often they're coming to visit for an entire week, not just stop in Hawaii for two to three days on their way to or from the U.S. Mainland.