Preparing for Chinese Visitors to the Hawaiian Islands

article top

BY J. ARTHUR RATH – “They’ll be here soon,” bragged state officials after junketing to China to promote Hawaii as a tourism destination.  Coconut Willee reminds us:  “China is becoming the richest country on earth, and holds much of America’s net worth.”

Japanese visitors and interested businessmen began pouring in during the Sixties.  It’s when Hawaii’s real estate bubble started climbing sky high. A classmate described hearing a horn honk as a car pulled into his beach house driveway.  Out stepped a visitor with cash in a suitcase, wanting to buy his property—right now!


Willee, Hawaii’s old-time tourist fave, reminds us there are millions more Chinese than Japanese.  We who watched the Olympics learned something this changing modern age.

Tourism mavens need to help Hawaii be prepared to beat off competition for the Chinese yuan—even if visitors only bring it in plastic form.

Because if Hawaii can offer no more than sun, sand, and shopping, China can build its own island paradises in subtropical areas such as the Korea Republic has done in Jeju City.  We can’t wait to find out!

“What’s your perspective?,” I asked Willee.

“Its based on experience and insight.  I moved to San Francisco’s and New York’s Chinatown and changed my name to emphasize ‘Lee.’ I, too, value Chinese mores and ancestry and want some association with it.* We could start with resurrecting ‘Old-Hawaiian Hospitality’ that people once sang about–and we could learn to practice it better.

“Write something to stimulate the old-time customer spirit.  Help start people think constructively about Pake (Chinese) mores so we can serve them well and make this a booming destination!”

Okay Willee, here are seven thoughts for a  start:

1. Chinese custom reveres age and ancient culture—older is beautiful.  When practiced, it means extending deference to oldest people in a touring or other group–seeking out and greeting them first. Being elderly connotes honor, good reputation, and respect.

2. Non-verbal communication speaks volumes. Facial expression, tone of voice, and posture may tell them what a person feels.  Try to achieve harmony.  Frowning speakers convey disagreement, which is why Chinese may maintain an impassive expression.  It is considered disrespectful to stare into another person’s eyes—that is invading privacy.  Looking toward the ground is not uncommon for them when greeting someone—a sign of politeness.

3. Chinese have a terrific sense of humor; since they will laugh at themselves, then you, too should laugh also at yourself in a charming way.  Be polite, not pushy, lighten up to help them enjoy time spent with you—even if it is only a fleeting association.

4. Recognize their sense of honor.  Use a title and surname—don’t be quick to use first names which is so gauchely salesman-type-American.  They’ll tell you when and if to use it.

5. If you are doing some formal form of business, remember that Chinese consider punctuality is a virtue.  Appointments, rather than dropping in, is appreciated.  You may need an intermediary to vouch for your reliability.  Time, patience, and earning trust contribute to satisfaction.

6. Some of old traditions are practiced here: Remove shoes when entering a home, bring a small gift to the hostess—present it with two hands.  Eat well to show you enjoyed the food–after waiting to be told where to sit. Local kids learn that “slurping” sounds aren’t  bad manners—they mean the person enjoying it thinks the food tastes good!

7.  Tipping used to be considered insulting or condescending; Willee says it is becoming more common among Chinese.  Just understand that social mores may be involved here.

Willee and I feel no one in Hawaii should take tourism, as we have known it, for granted.  It is not a production-line “industry”, but comprises the complex human emotions of persons who shared some time with us.

The “same old” may no longer be enough because Hawaii is not the only place on earth where visitors can have a good time.
*The author’s Chinese ancestor, a Maui sugar mill partner with Kamehameha III, sold refined sugar and sundries in his store “Hungtai,” which now is the site of Honolulu’s Financial Plaza.