Hawaii expects visa waiver to boost Taiwan travel


HONOLULU (AP) — Hawaii will likely welcome more visitors from Taiwan now that the U.S. has eliminated a visa requirement for Taiwanese citizens, state officials said Tuesday.

About 8,000 Taiwanese travelers visited last year, and about 10,000 are expected this year, the Hawaii Tourism Authority said.

The state agency predicted more will come, just as South Korean travelers began visiting Hawaii in greater numbers after the U.S. extended its visa waiver to that country in 2008.

Hawaii expects over 140,000 South Korean visitors this year, more than three times the number that came in 2007.

Taiwan is smaller, with a population about half the size of South Korea's 48 million, but the island nation is wealthier by some measurements. The World Factbook compiled by the Central Intelligence Agency estimates Taiwan's per capita gross domestic product, on a purchasing power parity basis, was $38,200 last year. That places it 27th in global rankings, ahead of Britain and Japan.

South Korea came in at number 40 with per capita GDP of $32,100.

"Increasing ease of access to Hawaii is great news for our economy. It will be much easier to travel to Hawaii from Taiwan, and puts us on track for steady growth in this market. Hawaii's relationship with Taiwan has never been stronger," Lt. Gov. Brian Schatz said in a statement.

Having an airline fly nonstop to Hawaii from Taiwan will be critical for developing the market, the tourism authority said. China Airlines, a Taiwanese carrier, has a daily flight to Honolulu from Taipei but it stops at Narita airport outside Tokyo.

The agency said it will work with Hawaii Tourism Asia, which markets the islands to countries in Asia other than Japan, and industry partners to increase travel from Taiwan.

Democratic and Republican candidates for the U.S. Senate hailed the move.

"Together with the visa waiver status for Korea and some practical 'fixes' to the visa issuance process in China, Hawaii is poised to see and benefit from even more visitors from the Asia Pacific regions," said former Gov. Linda Lingle, who is running on the Republican ticket.

"Every time we make common sense changes to the visa waiver program, the additional visitors strengthen our number one industry, tourism, and put money in the pockets of Hawaii's small businesses creating local jobs," said the Democratic Party's candidate, U.S. Rep. Mazie Hirono.

The new visa policy takes effect Nov. 1. Starting on that date, Taiwanese visitors traveling to the U.S. on tourism or business for no more than 90 days will be able to come without a visa.

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