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Asia Minute: South Korea’s Growing Presence in Hawai‘i

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All this week, HPR’s Bill Dorman has been reporting on a recent trip he made to Korea with the East West Center.  Today, he takes a look at the growing travel and investment ties between Korea and Hawai‘i in today’s Asia Minute.

Korea’s ties with Hawai‘i go back to its first immigrants to the United States.  It was 1903…and the first Koreans to come to America went to work on Hawai‘i’s sugar plantations.  Today they come on airplanes…about 10 to 15-thousand a month.

The Hawai‘i Tourism Authority expects the number of Korean visitors to the state to grow by 6% next year.  Through the first nine months of this year, the HTA says visitor arrivals from Korea actually fell by about 7.5% in part because of a drop in available airline seats on direct routes.

That will change next month.  Jin Air, the discount airline subsidiary of Korean Air, will fly from Seoul to Honolulu five days a week, starting December 19th.  More Koreans are traveling in general—the Korea Tourism Organization  says outbound travel has increased by 8-percent each of the past three years - topping 16-million trips last year.  But South Korea’s presence in Hawai‘i goes beyond visitors and beyond a cultural presence that stretches across the islands.

Earlier this month, a subsidiary of Koreana Hotel and Resorts paid more than 20-million dollars to buy the Hawai‘i Kai Golf course.  Last month, the same company bought the leasehold interest in Waik?k?’s Polynesian Plaza boutique hotel for more than ten-million dollars.  And earlier this year, Seoul-based Mirae Asset Global Investments spent around 200-million dollars to buy the Fairmont Orchid Hawai‘i on the Big Island.

Bill Dorman has been the news director at Hawaiʻi Public Radio since 2011.
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