Char Tour Closes

Virginia Char Wong stood yesterday with the brass lions that guard Hawaii's first travel and tour agency, Char Tour and Travel Service, which will close in July.

Char Tour, founded in 1933, will close

By Dan Martin

Yew Char founded Hawaii's first travel and tour agency in 1933 with a personal touch that kept it in business for 71 years.

But no more. Char Tour and Travel Service, located in Chinatown, will have taken its last reservation by July 1, when the family-run company closes for good.

"It's sad, but we think it's time to let go," said Char's daughter Virginia Char Wong.

It won't be for lack of customers. Wong said business has remained steady thanks to the loyalty of families that have patronized the agency for generations, drawn by the personalized attention of Yew Char and later herself, both of whom have escorted thousands around the world through the years.

"He wouldn't even charge people for meals that they missed on a tour. That was unheard of," Wong says of her father, who also was the first ethnic Chinese member of Hawaii's Territorial Legislature. Yew Char died in 1982 at age 89.

Today there's no one left to run the company. Wong, her husband Henry, and their son all have suffered health problems.

Wong has received offers to buy the agency but the buyers wanted to retain its well-established name, which she couldn't allow.

"I don't want to sell the business and let the name go down."
Virginia Char Wong
Daughter of Yew Char, the late founder of Char Tour

"This was my dad's company. I don't want to sell the business and let the name go down," she said.

Blazing a trail in Hawaii's travel business seemed a perfect fit for the naturally intrepid Yew Char, the son of immigrants from China. Born on the Big Island in 1893, he ran away from home while young so he could travel and ended up in Chicago for a time, where he studied photography before returning to Hawaii.

Though he never finished high school, he was elected to the Legislature in 1927. Six years later, he organized a tour to the World's Fair in Chicago, and CharTour and Travel Service was born.

He escorted local travelers to Asia, Europe and, of course, Las Vegas, through the decades, and had been traveling right up to the time of his death.

"He came in, went straight to the hospital and died three days later," Wong said.

The closing announcement was a dissapointment, said Evelyn, a Char customer since the 1960s who kept coming back because of the "good service." She declined to provide her last name.

Wong, who at 76 still leads a tour somewhere in the world almost every month, saidshe plans to honor all tour reservations made up until July 1. She also will arrange and lead the occasional tour for "special friends" in the future.

"But it's time to rest too. I always said my vacations were when I was at home," she said.