Airline sets sights on growing number of Chinese traveling to US island state
Hawaiian hospitality
Published: May 11, 2017 06:08 PM

Freshly painted livery adorns a Hawaiian Airlines A330. Photo: Courtesy of Hawaiian Airlines

If you want to fly to your next vacation destination in less than 10 hours, you have plenty of choices, but you might take a good look at Hawaii, the US island state known for its beaches and natural scenery.

On May 31, Hawaiian Airlines will begin offering fully reclining seats in its premium cabin on flights between Beijing and Honolulu, Hawaii - an upgrade aimed squarely at China's growing international air travel market.

Hawaiian's premium cabin features 18 leather seats that recline into flat beds, the airline said. The cabin's retrofit also adds additional extra-comfort seats to the airline's Airbus A330 aircraft to meet growing demand.

Hawaiian, one of the four US-based airlines with direct flights between China and the US, has just celebrated the Beijing-Honolulu route's third anniversary.

"We are still a relatively new company in China, but we are encouraged by the opportunity to have served approximately 130,000 guests on over 800 flights since launching the service in 2014," Peter Ingram, executive vice president and chief commercial officer of Hawaiian Airlines, said in an e-mail interview with the Global Times on Tuesday.

China growth

A record 11.05 million passengers flew Hawaiian in 2016, up 3.5 percent, according to the airline's data.

The record passenger count marks Hawaiian's 12th straight year of passenger growth as it continues to expand its network and fleet. The airline boasts more options to fly to and within the Hawaiian Islands than any other airline.

The number of travelers from the­ Chinese mainland flying to Hawaii on all the airlines rose 12.4 percent in 2015 to 180,000, according to the data from the Hawaii Tourism Authority. From January to July 2016, the number reached 107,016.

Each traveler from the Chinese mainland stayed for an average of 6.29 days on the islands in 2015.

"Every time I visit Hawaii, I find something new," Beijing resident Leo Yang told the Global Times on Wednesday.

Yang has visited Hawaii four times, staying seven to 10 days each trip, he said. He spends most of his time on the beaches or exploring the islands.

"We anticipate demand for a Hawaii vacation to continue to grow as we introduce a greater number of Chinese travelers to our Hawaiian in-flight hospitality and they discover the unique experiences our islands have to offer," Ingram said.

Focus on flexibility

China trails Japan as Hawaiian's biggest international market as the island country has more cities with flights to Hawaii.

However, the airline is targeting longer-term visitors.

"China can be the biggest example for that, and we expect China to continue to grow," said Avi Mannis, senior vice president of marketing at Hawaiian Airlines.

Air China and Hawaiian Airlines each launched direct routes between Beijing and Honolulu in 2014. At present, there are six daily flights each week between the two cities. China Eastern Airlines also runs five direct flights a week between Shanghai and Honolulu.

Hawaiian has signed a code-sharing agreement with Air China, which gives its passengers more options for destinations.

"Compared with Air China, we are small, given the market, so our goal is to better work with the distributors and be more flexible than big airlines," Mannis told the Global Times on April 27.

He added that Hawaiian has strong e-commerce practices and does a lot of digital marketing through WeChat and Sina Weibo to get the word out about Hawaii to more people in China.

Teaching travelers

Hawaiian finished the month of January as the US airline industry's top-ranked carrier for on-time performance, according to the US Department of Transportation (DOT).

Hawaiian's flights arrived on schedule 85.7 percent of the time, the airline said, citing DOT data.

The airline also had the fewest flight cancellations of any carrier in January, when it canceled only 18 of its 6,276 flights.

Hawaiian led the US airline industry in on-time performance every year from 2004 to 2016, the airline said, again citing DOT data.

Although a growing number of Chinese people have been traveling to Hawaii, the US and Japan remain the island state's top sources of tourists. As such, Hawaiian has made marketing to Chinese travelers a top priority.

"We believe consumers will continue to prioritize their vacation - and this is particularly true for the Chinese consumer," Ingram said. "Our challenge is to continue to tell Chinese travelers about the unmatched value Hawaii offers as a safe, exotic and diverse global travel destination."

When asked if Hawaiian intends to open more routes in China, Ingram said the airline is currently operating an appropriate number of flights to China as it continues to build up its presence in the market.

"As demand rises, we would certainly look to adjust our frequency and consider additional gateways in China," he said.