The head of growing Hawaiian Airlines says that easier US visas would spur lucrative tourism from China, pointing to strong growth after the United States relaxed rules for South Korean visitors.

The Honolulu-based carrier last month launched flights to Tokyo's Haneda airport and begins service in January to Seoul's Incheon airport. But it has no immediate plans to enter fast-growing China.

"It is burdensome to get a tourist visa if you are a Chinese citizen and this is an impediment to Chinese tourists visiting," said Mark Dunkerley, Hawaiian Airlines' president and CEO.

"It's clearly not in our gift to change the process, but clearly we have a strong vested interest in attracting people living in China to visit the state of Hawaii," he told AFP.

Tourism to Hawaii and the rest of the country is "an important export for the United States and obviously we would like to see an easier environment for us to be able to make the most of these valuable exports," he said.

Hawaiian Airlines has put a priority on expansion into Asia, along with in-flight service. On Monday, it announced firm commitments for six more Airbus A330-200 planes.

Dunkerley said he saw strong growth in tourism to Hawaii from South Korea after the United States in 2008 added it to its list of countries whose nationals can visit without a visa.

"It's growing very, very quickly in the past year and we would forecast a fast rate of growth over the next few years," he said of tourism from South Korea.

US government statistics said Wednesday that the number of South Korean visitors to the United States soared 50 percent in the first nine months of the year compared with the same period in 2009.

In contrast, the Japanese are veteran vacationers to the Hawaiian islands.

Hawaiian Airlines started service to Tokyo after winning a coveted slot at Haneda, a primarily domestic airport which Japan's government envisions turning into a 24-hour international hub.

The main international gateway to Tokyo is Narita airport, some 60 kilometers (40 miles) outside the metropolis.

Dunkerley said the Haneda service "has been very well received" and said the airport was a "great strategic advantage," due to its proximity to central Tokyo and abundant connections within Japan.

The US Congress this year set up a tourism promotion authority, saying that a more aggressive push for foreign visitors could boost an already lucrative industry. Foreign visitors spent 100 billion dollars in the United States from January through September, according to the Commerce Department.

Tourism boards around the world have been trying to woo China's rising middle class, with British Prime Minister David Cameron making a widely noted pitch for Chinese visitors earlier this year.

But few expect the United States to give China a visa waiver, which Washington usually reserves for close allies and developed countries from which there are few concerns of illegal immigration.

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