Photos: Hawaiian paradise

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  1. Waimea Canyon, Kauai

    Kalalau Valley, on Kauai's west side, is more than 3,000 feet deep and provides stunning panoramic views. Waimea is nicknamed "The Grand Canyon of the Pacific." (John Borthwick / Lonely Planet) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Honolulu, Hawaii

    Men row their Hawaiian outrigger canoe towards Waikiki beach, with Diamond Head in the background. Outrigger canoes are now used for recreation purposes and to ride the waves, but in times past they were the main means of transportation between the Hawaiian Islands. (Mike Nelson / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. The tranquil waters of Oahu

    Hanauma Bay is one of the finest stretches of beach in the world. (Eric L Wheater / Lonely Planet) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Surfer's paradise

    Australian Luke Egan competes on Oahu's North Shore, one of the best places in Hawaii to ride the big waves. (AFP) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Water colors

    A school of manini fish pass over a coral reef at Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve in Honolulu, Hawaii. (Donald Miralle / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Wailua Falls

    The beautiful 83-foot tiered Wailua Falls is an easily accessible, must-see waterfall on the island of Kauai. Wailua Falls was first made famous when it was featured in the television show, "Fantasy Island." (James Randklev / Corbis) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Emerald peaks

    The iconic, towering emerald peaks of the 1,200-foot Iao Needle, stand out in Maui's Iao Valley State Park. (Adina Tovy Amsel / Lonely Planet) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Historic reminder

    The USS Arizona Memorial in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, marks the resting place of many of the battleship's 1,177 crew members who lost their lives during the Attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941 by the Japanese. The memorial is the "ground zero" of World War II. (Kevin Winter / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Aloha!

    Hula dancers welcome the sailing crew of a Hokule'a, a canoe, into Kailua Bay. (Ronen Zilberman / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. The heart of Hawaii

    The sun sets on Honolulu, Oahu's capital and Hawaii's largest, most populous city. (Robert Y. Ono / Corbis) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Polynesian heat

    Brandon OFueo Maneafaiga, 23, of Waianae, Hawaii balances two flaming knifes during the 13th Annual World Fireknife Championship at the Polynesian Cultural Centre in Laie, Hawaii. (Lucy Pemoni / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Explosive attraction

    People watch from a viewing area as an explosion takes place on Kilauea, one of the world's most active volcanoes, in Pahoa, Hawaii. Legend says the volcano goddess Pele dug fire pits as she traveled from island to island looking for a home with her brothers and sisters. She finally settled at Kilauea's summit, where she lives at Halemaumau crater. (Leigh Hilbert / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Forces of nature

    The Dragon's Teeth are bizarre lava formations eroded by wind and salt spray at Makalua-puna Point. (Karl Lehmann / Lonely Planet) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Heaven on Earth

    Astronomy observatories are seen on the peak of the snow-covered, Mauna Kea mountain near Hilo, Hawaii. Mauna Kea is a dormant volcano. (Tim Wright / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. On the way to Sainthood

    Tourists walk through a cemetery past the grave, left, of Father Damien at Kalawao, Hawaii. After cancer patient Audrey Toguchi prayed to Father Damien, known for helping leprosy patients in Hawaii, to help her, and her cancer went away, Pope Benedict XVI approved the case in July 2008 as Damien's second miracle, opening the way for the 19th century Belgian priest to be declared a saint. (Eric Risberg / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. Cool colors

    Rainbow eucalyptus (Mindanao Gum) trees grow in Keanae, Maui. Once a year, these magnificent trees shed their bark and take on the colors of the rainbow. (James Randklev / Corbis) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. Magic Sands

    An aerial view of La'aloa Beach Park or Magic Sands beach in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii. The beach is called Magic Sands because when rough surf hits, all of the sand is emptied off the beach and temporarily moved out to sea. (Brian Powers / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
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updated 8/20/2007 11:25:15 AM ET 2007-08-20T15:25:15

Hawaii tourism promoters hope a planned visa waiver program will bring more South Korean travelers to the islands.

U.S. Rep. Maize Hirono, a Democrat from Hawaii, said the possible influx of South Korean visitors could resemble the rise in Japanese tourists witnessed after the U.S. eased visa restrictions on visitors from Japan.

"If all goes well, this will be terrific news for Hawaii," Hirono told The Honolulu Star-Bulletin. "This will dramatically increase the number of visitors we can expect from South Korea. It will probably replicate what happened with Japan when it got into the visa waiver program."

South Korean tourist arrivals have been hovering at around 35,000 a year — far below the high of 123,000 in 1996 — largely because citizens of the Asian nation have trouble obtaining visas to visit the United States.

A law President George W. Bush signed earlier this month could change that.

The law allows more countries to qualify for visa waivers if they have cooperated with the United States in counterterrorism efforts.

The countries must also meet certain requirements, including having a history of few visa denials and few visitors overstaying their visas.

State tourism liaison Marsha Wienert says South Korea meets all the criteria.

"We are very optimistic that we will be able to welcome South Korea as a visa waiver country, probably by the first part of next year," Wienert told the newspaper. "We're looking forward to it."

Slideshow: The heart of Hawaii The law directs the Department of Homeland Security to establish an exit tracking system for departing air passengers as a condition of expanding the visa waiver program.

Wienert said she has already contacted the Department of Homeland Security to make sure Honolulu and Kona, Hawaii's two international airports, are equipped with the exit program.

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Short-term visitors from Japan and selected other nations may enter the United States without obtaining a visa in advance.

But South Koreans must currently apply in person at the U.S. Embassy in Seoul for U.S. visas before they leave for the United States.

They travel by train or even air to Seoul, and sometimes must even spend the night there to go through the application process. Even then, there is no guarantee their application will be accepted, said Austin Kang, co-chairman of the Korean Visa Waiver Committee.

Some businesses are gearing up to welcome more Koreans.

Slideshow: Magical Maui The Waikiki Resort Hotel, a pioneer in catering to the Korean market, is planning renovations to prepare for the influx.

"We're hopeful that everything will be in place by summer of 2008," said Trudy Taniguchi, director of sales and marketing at the hotel. "We are getting drummed up and ready for this visa waiver to go through. It's been talked about for many, many years."

© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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