Economic Aftermath: As Japanese Tourist Numbers Drop, Hawaii Considers Alternatives

by Staff on March 29, 2011

When will they be ready to return?

In addition to the tens of millions of dollars in damage to roads, homes, ports, and businesses caused by the March 11th tsunami, the islands’ already fragile economy is taking a hard hit from the economic aftershocks of the Japan earthquake.

When their country is in crisis, many Japanese cease travel out of respect.  A Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) board member, Kiyoko Kimura, explained the decline in Japanese visitors to Hawaii, stating, “It’s not a fear of flying, but more about respect — they feel they shouldn’t be enjoying — and guilt.”  (Source)  A Japanese visitor to Oahu, Yasushi Hagihara, echoed these concerns in an interview with the Star Advertiser, saying that he had considered canceling his family’s trip to Hawaii, although his city, Osaka was untouched by the earthquake.  “Osaka did not receive any damage,” Hagihara said. “Everything goes on as usual, but people feel very depressed. We feel it’s not the right time to be enjoying ourselves.”

In the days following the earthquake, there was a dramatic drop in Japanese visitors to Hawaii, with just 484 arrivals on March 11, 2011 compared with 3, 677 on March 11, 2010.  Bloomberg reports that as a result of trip cancelations and a decrease in international travel from Japan, Japan Airlines has recently announced it will reduce the number of weekly Tokyo to Honolulu flights from 21 to 14 for nearly the entire month of April.

The decline in travelers from Japan to Hawaii is predicted to continue through June, and with about 18% of Hawaii’s tourists typically coming from Japan, this dramatic decrease in visitors and spending will be felt throughout the islands.

So how will Hawaii cope with continued cancellations and reduced revenue?

The HTA says it will use the $3 million approved from reserve funds to focus its recovery efforts on Asian markets, such as China and Korea, as well as other important markets like Australia and New Zealand.  The HTA will encourage visitors from these countries by securing charter flights directly from China and offering additional flights between Oceania and Hawaii.  The $3 million will also be used to boost marketing to mainland US cities such as San Diego, CA and Portland, OR.  And in time, the HTA will refocus on Japan, launching a campaign that will encourage Japanese tourists and return some of the visitor spending to Japan’s disaster relief efforts.

Angus McKelvey, the Chair of the Economic Revitalization & Business Committee, has another revenue-raising idea.  According to a report by KHON2, Representative McKelvey is proposing that the state allow poker tournaments to revitalize the economy, claiming that these 4-6 week events will bring in tourists and money as well as national exposure.  Are Representative McKelvey and the supporters of bill SB755 HDB1 exploiting the current crisis for their own gaming gain?  Perhaps.  And their timing and persuasive, if manipulative, arguments seem to be working, at least on the House, where the bill has already passed two committees and is up for a floor vote today.

While Representative McKelvey pushes forward his poker bill and the HTA steps up it marketing efforts, residents may wonder what they can do to help our ailing economy.  One of the best and easiest things we can do is to get the word out the Hawaii is still a safe and enjoyable place to visit.  We can encourage mainland and international friends and relatives to visit and assure them that the islands are open for business and waiting with aloha to share.

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