More tourists from China visit Hawaii

Li­wei Kimura leads Hawai­ian Air­lines in woo­ing main­land tourists

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - FRONT PAGE - By ZHU WENQIAN zhuwen­qian@chi­nadaily.com.cn

As the wan­der­lust of China’s vast mid­dle class takes wing and tar­gets choic­est in­ter­na­tional des­ti­na­tions, tourist hot spots such as Hawaii are see­ing mul­ti­tudes of Chi­nese trav­el­ers.

Small won­der, Hawai­ian Air­lines, which al­ready op­er­ates di­rect flights be­tween Bei­jing and Honolulu three times a week, plans to launch more di­rect flights to con­nect Shang­hai and smaller Chi­nese cities with Hawaii.

Lead­ing the ex­pan­sion strat­egy is Li­wei Kimura, Hawai­ian Air­lines’ re­gional di­rec­tor and chief rep­re­sen­ta­tive for Greater China. Since tak­ing charge in June 2015, Kimura has been fly­ing fre­quently be­tween Bei­jing and Honolulu.

She is bullish on the growth po­ten­tial of Hawai­ian tourism on the back of ris­ing Chi­nese in­ter­est in the Pa­cific is­lands.

“We are a premier leisure car­rier as our des­ti­na­tion is a place for re­lax­ation and fun. Va­ca­tions for such pur­poses have be­come an es­sen­tial part of high-qual­ity Chi­nese life­style. I’m con­fi­dent there’s a big mar­ket for us in China,” Kimura said.

Grown up in Bei­jing, Kimura brings in­sider knowl­edge of lo­cal tastes and pref­er­ences to the air­line’s strat­egy.

For in­stance, in May, the air­line ren­o­vated the cabin of the plane used for the Bei­jingHonolulu flight, to high­light cer­tain el­e­ments in de­sign and lay­out.

When Chi­nese fliers stepped into the cabin, they ap­par­ently felt as if they were in Hawaii al­ready, more so be­cause the flight at­ten­dants wear tra­di­tional Hawai­ian flow­ers.

The busi­ness class was equipped with seats that al­low cus­tomers to lie down fully. This was done to meet the ex­pec­ta­tions of af­flu­ent Chi­nese trav­el­ers who are will­ing to pay more for com­fort and qual­ity ser­vice dur­ing long flights.

“Our seats look fash­ion­able and use er­gonomic de­sign. Be­sides, we don’t use the tra­di­tional on-air en­ter­tain­ment sys­tem for busi­ness class any­more. In­stead, we hand in every cus­tomer an iPad.

“We of­fer all this at flight ticket prices that are the same or com­pa­ra­ble to our com­peti­tors’, and we aim to pro­vide more ex­quis­ite ser­vices at the same price points,” she said.

Kimura’s em­pha­sis on style in the air­line’s cus­tom­ized ap­proach to the China mar­ket is also ev­i­dent in her sar­to­rial el­e­gance. For this in­ter­view in Bei­jing, she is dressed in a pur­ple qi­pao, a clas­sic Chi­nese dress.

That color is sig­nif­i­cant. “Pur­ple rep­re­sents honor in Hawaii. If some­thing is pur­ple, it means it’s hon­or­able. The sym­bolic mean­ing is the same as in China. Hawai­ian Air­lines even in­no­vated its logo with heav­ier use of pur­ple.”

The China-Hawaii style fu­sion ex­tends to her qi­pao’s flo­ral pat­terns, which are based on tra­di­tional Hawai­ian flow­ers. That’s not all.

Kimura’s ear­rings are pur­ple-hued, and a pur­ple flower on the left side of the part­ing of her hair com­pletes the chic look. “I’ve a lot of flow­ers in dif­fer­ent col­ors to match my clothes, and I’d wear them when I’m in the mood. It doesn’t have to be any for­mal oc­ca­sion.

“When a flower is on the left side, it means the woman is mar­ried. If it’s on the right side, it means she is still avail­able.”

That fem­i­nine wis­dom helps her to tap into her nat­u­ral tal­ent and self-con­fi­dence, and shapes her man­age­ment style, which, she said, can be de­scribed in one word — em­pow­er­ment.

That is, em­pow­er­ment of her team, her em­ployer, the air­line’s cus­tomers, staff and stake­hold­ers. The key to that is hon­est, open and timely com­mu­ni­ca­tions, she said. “I’m try­ing to bring what I’ve learned in my life jour­ney to my team.”

She be­lieves that though peo­ple com­plain about even lit­tle prob­lems, “every neg­a­tive thing can be turned” into a pos­i­tive out­come or a pos­i­tive start for some­thing new even­tu­ally.

Her 20-plus years of ex­pe­ri­ence in the travel and hos­pi­tal­ity in­dus­try are pep­pered with in­stances of neg­a­tives be­ing con­verted into pos­i­tives, she said.

Kimura be­gan her ca­reer at Great Wall Sher­a­ton in Bei­jing, the first West­ern ho­tel that opened in mod­ern China.

In 1999, she left China and went to Hawaii to pur­sue an MBA from the Uni­ver­sity of Hawaii, where she ma­jored in in­ter­na­tional man­age­ment with fo­cus on China. Af­ter grad­u­a­tion, she worked at Star­wood Ho­tels & Re­sorts in Hawaii be­fore join­ing Hawai­ian Air­lines.

Her fam­ily is based in Hawaii, where they own a house, and Kimura re­lies on con­stant com­mu­ni­ca­tions for work-life bal­ance.

“We’re re­ally an in­ter­na­tional fam­ily. I try to com­mu­ni­cate with my fam­ily mem­bers through so­cial me­dia. The phys­i­cal dis­tance makes every mo­ment we spend to­gether a trea­sure for us. When we are to­gether, it’s qual­ity time, and I find that very grat­i­fy­ing.”

Equally grat­i­fy­ing for her is the air­line’s record. For the past 13 years, Hawai­ian Air­lines has been rated as the most punc­tual US air­line, ac­cord­ing to the US Depart­ment of Trans­porta­tion.

Last year, it was named the most punc­tual air­line glob­ally by the UK-based air travel in­tel­li­gence com­pany OAG. The OAG Punc­tu­al­ity League, cov­er­ing about 200 air­lines, re­vealed that 89.9 per­cent of Hawai­ian’s flights ar­rived on time in 2016.

Kimura said every depart­ment and staff mem­ber of Hawai­ian Air­lines val­ues the im­por­tance of safety and punc­tu­al­ity. They have be­come im­por­tant parts of the cor­po­rate cul­ture, some­thing that Chi­nese trav­el­ers have come to ex­pect from the air­line, she said.

We are a premier leisure car­rier as our des­ti­na­tion is a place for re­lax­ation and fun.” Li­wei Kimura, Hawai­ian Air­lines’ re­gional di­rec­tor and chief rep­re­sen­ta­tive for Greater China

FRAN­CIS DEAN / GETTY IMAGES

Hawai­ian air­lines aero­plane parked at gate in Hawai­ian Cap­i­tal Honoluu In­tern­tional Air­port in 2015.

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