Hawaii’s Hong Kong-China Connection

With the number of tourists from China coming to Hawaii expected to reach 1 million annually by 2017, a Hong Kong native sees economic opportunities for Island businesses

From the creation of the Silk Road in 200 B.C. to President Nixon’s visit in 1972, Western civilizations have been trying to tap into China’s vast market potential. The feeling about what China could be is turning into reality as its rapidly expanding economy and population are bringing in a new economic age.


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A Hong Kong native, Barinna Poon has lived in Hawaii for 25 years. Nathalie Walker photo

But how does that impact us in Hawaii, and how can we use this growth to expand our own economy?

This is the focus of the 2014 Hong Kong-China Forum, slated for June 4-7 at Hilton Hawaiian Village. It will feature dozens of speakers across the spectrum, from business and investment to technology and tourism.

Local president of Hong Kong Business Association of Hawaii Barinna Poon hopes to not just open eyes about the opportunities in China, but also opportunities here in Hawaii as well.

“I wanted to be very brave and show that Hawaii is not just sun and sand, but also a great meeting place,” says Poon, who was born in Hong Kong but has lived in the Islands for the past quarter century.

The numbers are shocking to those who haven’t been following this expansion closely. Hawaii had fewer than 30,000 Chinese visitors in 2001 – that number has expanded 600 percent, as more than 180,000 are projected to visit this year.

Even more amazing is a 2012 report by Chinese National Tourism Authority that predicts that 83 million travelers from China in 2012 will expand to 400 million by 2017.

Even if Hawaii’s percentage of those visitors remained stagnant, that would bring almost 1 million new visitors to our home in three years.

Compound that with the desire of Chinese to flee their smog-ridden cities for clean-air destinations, and you can see why excitement levels are building.

But it’s not all about tourism dollars.

“The HK-China Forum is about economic exchange among Hawaii, Hong Kong and China. Overseas speakers are directors leading economic growth at the national and provincial levels, and are all highly credible and valuable resources,” says Poon.

Business possibilities will be explored by such luminaries as Yanjun Li, director of the Ministry of Commerce of the People’s Republic of China, and Calvin Mak, founder and president of CTEW & Rhombus International Hotels Group.

It won’t all be just listening, though. They will hold power meetings as well, kind of a speed-dating for businesspeople where participants will spend five minutes speaking with potential business partners from all across the region.

“We want to serve as the gateway for small business to go to China, and we want to facilitate trade among Hawaii, Hong Kong and China,” says Poon.

According to Poon, a conference such as this would cost thousands of dollars to attend on the Mainland, but they have been able to keep the cost of the conference in the hundreds, with special rates for registering before May 20 for military and government employees, as well as full-time students.

If you or your company is interested in attending, information and registration are available at