From Pacific Business News
by Jason Ubay

Local business executives hope the new agreement between China and the U.S. to increase short-term visa validity to 10 years for tourists and business travelers will boost Hawaii's No. 1 industry.

The U.S. began issuing the extended visas on Wednesday. President Barack Obama made the announcement Monday while in Beijing for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit, which was held in Honolulu in 2011.

Hawaiian Airlines President and CEO Mark Dunkerley called it a "significant step in the right direction."

"Tourism is a vital contributor to the U.S. economy and to Hawaii in particular, and should not be underestimated," he said in a statement. "With an enormous population and a burgeoning middle class, the new visa policy will positively impact tourism and create new jobs over the long term by making our islands more easily accessible for Chinese travelers."

Dunkerley noted that Hawaiian Airlines has a three-times-a-week service between Honolulu and Beijing.

In addition, visa validity for students was increased from one to five years.

"Students are often an important driver of tourism and investment with the Chinese market," said Dave Erdman, president and CEO of PacRim Marketing Group and PRTech. "Students also help with the cultural and social connections with a destination, encouraging friends and family to visit. The edutourism business is very important to the U.S. and to the growth of Hawaii tourism from China."

In 2013, 1.8 million Chinese travelers visited the U.S. and contributed $21.2 billion to the economy, supporting 109,000 jobs. Of that, more than 130,000 visitors from China visited Hawaii, spending $328.6 million.

Chinese visitors to the U.S. is expected to reach 7.3 million in 2021 with annual expenditures of $85 billion a year, supporting 440,000 jobs.

Jason Ubay covers tourism and finance for Pacific Business News.