Sunday, February 11, 2001
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Posted on: Sunday, February 11, 2001

Visitor shopping up 10 percent in 2000

By Andrew Gomes
Advertiser Staff Writer

Younger travelers and a stronger yen drove average spending by Japanese visitors up about 10 percent last year at Island retail stores over 1999, according to a new survey.

The average Japanese visitor spent $161 per day — $1,164 per stay — shopping in Hawaii last year, according to the study by local market research firm OmniTrak Group Inc.

The figures mark increases of 8.9 percent and 12.8 percent, respectively over the previous year’s figures, $148 a day and $1,032 a visit.

Valery O’Brien, marketing director for Keauhou Shopping Center owner Kamehameha Investment Corp., said she has been surprised by how much Japanese visitors are buying amid reports of instability in Japan’s economy.

"(Shopping) is still very, very popular," said O’Brien, past president of the Hawaii Hospitality Sales & Marketing Association.

She said Japanese visitors are buying both high-end and value merchandise, as in the past. "They still like the quality," she said.

According to the survey, per-person, per-day shopping expenditures rose last year after declining in 1998 and 1999.

Pat Loui, OmniTrak president, said visitors 18 to 34 years old spent significantly more, while spending among older visitors was flat. Single visitors spent more than those with families.

'Office ladies' leading

Leading the more liberal spenders were young Japanese working women, often called "office ladies," whose retail spending increased almost 25 percent, the survey showed. Loui said their impact was felt in cosmetics, women’s apparel and home furnishings.

" O.L.’s and the young are splurging a bit on themselves rather than buying more omiyage, or gifts, for family and friends," Loui said.

A stronger yen allowed shoppers to get more for their money. Loui said the yen exchange rate averaged 114 to the dollar in 1999, compared with 108 last year.

Also contributing to higher retail spending were perceptions that Japan’s economy was slowly improving, Loui said.

Dwight Yoshimura, general manager of Ala Moana Center, the state’s largest mall, said he believed OmniTrak’s per-person, per-day spending figure of $161 was conservative.

"We do know that they spend quite a bit of money when they come here," Yoshimura said.

The state Department of Business, Economic Development & Tourism, which surveys about 2,000 departing Japanese visitors every month, does not track visitor shopping expenditures as closely.

Preliminary unreleased figures for Japanese shopping expenditures — one component of the state’s total measure of visitor spending -- indicate retail spending was flat last year.

Kids can skew figure

But chief state economist Pearl Imada Iboshi noted that the government figure is based on the total number of Japanese visitors, including children, which can skew the per-person figure. Nearly 2 million Japanese visitors came to Hawaii last year, a 1.7 percent increase over 1999. It was not known how many of those were under 18.

OmniTrak’s survey of 300 visitors a month has a margin of error of plus or minus 1.6 percent for annual data.

From 1996 to 2000, per-person per-day shopping expenditures by Japanese visitors averaged $158 in 1996; $169 in 1997; $161 in 1998; $148 in 1999; and $161 in 2000, the survey said.

Shopping expenditures per visit to Hawaii averaged $853 in 1996; $828 in 1997; $951 in 1998; $1,032 in 1999; and $1,164 in 2000.

The study focused on retail spending: merchandise including food taken home. Restaurant, hotel, transportation and entertainment spending were excluded.

Omnitrak surveyed 3,600 Japanese visitors 18 years or older departing Honolulu International Airport in each of the last five years.

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