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Visa rejections keep thousands of Chinese tourists from visiting Hawaii

Chinese tourists take photos outside the New York Stock Exchange. Photo: Reuters

More than 2,000 of the 6,000 Nu Skin Enterprises distributors on the Chinese mainland and Hong Kong, who were planning to attend a conference in April in Hawaii, were unable to get their visa applications approved, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported recently.

Typically, 10-15 percent of visa applications for large groups travelling to Hawaii get denied, but Nu Skin's rate was significantly higher, according to the report.

The rejection of the visa applications came shortly before US President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping are set to meet for the first time since Trump's inauguration as the president in January.

Some travel officials are worried about the negative effect of the Trump administration's revised travel ban, which suspended entry of citizens from six predominately Muslim countries including Iran, Sudan, Syria, Libya, Somalia as well as Yemen and nearly all refugees into the US for 90 days and 120 days respectively.

The travel ban addresses travelers from specific regions in the Middle East and Africa, but it still creates unease for Chinese visitors who fear the onerous travel restrictions would worsen, Reene HoPhang, managing director of Hawaii Tourism China, said.
"We have observed that group demand has cascaded a bit. Word has spread in the industry, and it is impacting other groups. Some are postponing group bookings by a year," HoPhang said.

Hawaii and other American cities hopeful of increasing Chinese tourism have long worked with the US Travel Association to advocate for visa improvements. This issue was top of mind in 2011 when the China US Tourism Leadership Summit was held in Kailua-Kona and Hawaii leaders pushed for changes in the US visa policy.

The Hawaii Tourism Authority estimated that it would have brought $15.9 million in corporate spending into the state and generated $1.9 million in taxes if all 6,000-plus Nu Skin distributers had come to Hawaii.

The convention of Nu Skin, a Utah-based direct seller of skin care and nutritional products which was suspected of running an illegal pyramid scheme in China, is slated to be Hawaii's largest incentive travel group from China.

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