Many travelers come to Hawaii in search of the perfect beach. But Stefan Zhu of Northeast China came to check out the state’s educational opportunities.

The 22-year-old enrolled at Intercultural Communications College Hawaii, a downtown Honolulu school for English as a second language, where he hopes to bolster his English skills so he can get a job in luxury retail.

“I wanted a place where I could get around without a car so that left New York or Hawaii,” Zhu said. “New York is more expensive than Hawaii so I chose to come here.”

Tourism growth from the promising Asia-Pacific region, which is expected to help Hawaii shore up its

visitor industry in 2014, has created a surge in foreign students like Zhu who come from emerging visitor markets. The strong increases are also bolstering tourism, retail and real estate growth across the isles.

“We expect to see 25 percent growth over last year,” said Mika Sasamoto, ICC’s executive director. “Growth in education from Asia will create different economic markets for the state. We had one student from Europe that loved it here so much that he bought property in Waikiki. The parents of one of our Chinese students, who decided to go to private high school here, also bought a condominium. Our students and their parents, who typically come to visit them, also spend money vacationing here and buying goods here. There’s the potential for growth that goes well beyond education.”

While many of Sasamoto’s students come from Europe, a less robust source of visitors to Hawaii, she has seen growth from Japan, China, Taiwan and Korea and is also eyeing Latin America, especially Chile and Brazil.

“Not a lot of Europeans are coming to Hawaii for tourism, but for education the numbers are very high. About 35 percent of our students come from Europe; however, growth from Asia also has been strong. Our enrollment from China grew three times and it’s grown two times from Taiwan” she said. “As Hawai’i Tourism Authority pushes these markets, we’ve seen increases.”

Jose Villa, publisher of Hawaii Hispanic News, said the state would be wise to increase efforts to grow visitors from Latin America.

“Latin American countries are getting more affluent and many people there love to travel and consider Hawaii paradise,” he said. “It’s a lot more like Latin America in Hawaii than on the mainland. Typically a lot of Latinos come from tropical climates and are used to wearing brighter colors and being more affectionate. Hawaii is a good fit for them.”

Sasamoto said she would like to see Hawaii’s tourism leaders and politicians continue to work on building better relationships with more emerging markets and easing travel restrictions for visitors who come from places like China that require a visa to visit.

Even with such challenges, ICC has reaped the benefits of growth from some of these markets. As a result of greater enrollment, ICC has been able to restore staff cut during the last global downturn as well as expand programs, such as its teen summer camp experience. Demand for short-term and long-term study of English as a second language has been so strong that it has exceeded ICC’s available space.

Fumika Utsu, a dental hygienist in Kyoto, said she’s been studying at ICC for the past two years so she can participate in continuing educational career opportunities outside of Hawaii. She chose Oahu because she became familiar with the island during previous vacations: It is easy to navigate and it is close enough to Japan that she can go back and forth with ease.

“I’d been here as a visitor 16 times and I already have (time share) membership at Hilton Grand Vacations Club,” Utsu said.

While year-round programs are popular with adult students, ICC also saw a boost in enrollment for its teen summer camp program.

“Last year we had eight students, but it grew to 29 this year and I’m hearing from many students in China that want to register for next year,” Sasamoto said. “We are hoping to double the count for next year and I’m actually hoping to put together a teen winter camp.

“More and more Asian parents want their children to go to high school in America, or even to early education like preschool and kindergarten. They want to help their children experience American culture and learn English.”

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