By Glenn Scott
Advertiser Staff Writer
As a greeter for a Japanese tour company, Danny Caraway spent a hectic morning yesterday at Honolulu International Airport welcoming visitors arriving on a newly extended New Years holiday.
Shouting in polite Japanese over the constant rumbling of luggage wheels, Caraway had the task of guiding the tired visitors arriving on overnight flights toward boarding sites for buses bound eventually for Waikiki.
Like Caraway, who works for JalPak International, workers for several tour companies spent their morning directing the Japanese tourists as they streamed out the automatic doors of the baggage-claim area and into the mild Honolulu morning. It was a busy task because the tourists were arriving at twice the normal rate.
"The run is going a lot longer this week than usual," said Caraway, his forehead shiny with sweat. "And we still have two or three more days like this."
For those serving Japanese visitors, this week indeed has been out of the ordinary. Visitors are arriving not only in far greater numbers than usual, but also over a longer period of time.
Normally, the majority of Japanese tourists arrive a few days before New Years Day and leave by today. Yesterday, as if to support that pattern, 8,000 tourists did depart from Honolulu to return to Japan. But unlike previous years, nearly as many more tourists were still arriving.
"This year," said Tamotsu Morimoto, general manager in Honolulu for All Nippon Airways, "many passengers are coming the first week of January and are returning to Japan on the 7th or 8th."
That has brought serendipitous benefits in the opening week of 2001 for Hawaiis tourism industry as Japanese tourists the highest-spending visitors as a national group extend their holiday here.
Japan Airlines, for example, flew 19 passenger jets back to Japan yesterday carrying 6,663 passengers, said Kenneth Ikeda, the lobby manager. To meet the demand, the airline ferried in three empty jets to provide the necessary seats.
"Today, basically, is our crunch day," he said
But it is a new and more lucrative kind of crunch, because the airline also brought in an additional 5,260 people to begin their Hawaii vacations. Many wont leave until Sunday or Monday.
The visitor arrival figures are significant, too, because during nonpeak periods, by contrast, the airline typically runs 10 daily flights and carries about half as many passengers.
Travel industry officials give three main reasons for the increased business this year. First, Japanese customers are reacting to gradual improvements in their national economy. Second, visitors chose to take trips now after postponing travel last year because of the Y2K scare. Finally, more people are taking advantage of a change in holiday scheduling.
The government last year shifted a holiday Adults Day, also known in English as Coming of Age Day that traditionally had been celebrated Jan. 15. Now it falls on the second Monday of January. The move effectively extended the weeklong New Years vacation by another day and boosted the potential for travel.
As a result, the Japan Travel Bureau forecast a record this season for overseas travel, predicting that 668,000 passengers 4,000 more than in 1996 would venture from Japan. The tour company predicted that 83,000 people would visit Hawaii, up from 54,000 a year ago.
Some of those arriving yesterday quickly credited the longer holiday period for their decision to fly here.
"Its because of the calendar schedule," said Yukinobu Uwabo, 35, of Tokyo as he stood in line to check in with a tour operator for a six-day family holiday. "This year, we have Happy Monday."
Thats the term the Japanese have chosen for the day that allows them longer vacations. But its not just visitors like Uwabo-san who are happy about the small shift in the schedule. The state Department of Business, Economic Development & Tourism already has pinpointed Happy Monday as a generator for more visitor days and dollars, one of the developments that economists predict will keep the states economy clicking for another year. JTB figures that traveling Japanese tourists are spending an average of $375 a day over the holiday period.
The effect of Happy Monday was evident in various manifestations at the airport yesterday. With little news occurring in Japan this week, several TV crews were in Honolulu yesterday staking out a baggage-claim exit to capture emerging Japanese celebrities vacationing here.
The crews converged quickly at the shy appearance of Nobuyo Oyama, an actress and the well-recognized voice for one of Japans most famous anime characters, the blue cat Doraemon.
Meanwhile, back at the tour staging area, workers kept rolling more large suitcases out to waiting trucks. Judie Naito, an assistant supervisor, helped direct 1,842 JTB customers to tour buses. They were destined for orientations at the Aloha Tower Marketplace en route to their hotels.
Around a corner, Vicky Overstreet of the Ohana Group barely had a moment to talk as she arranged customers for their package-deal photographs with shapely local women modeling grass skirts.
"Weve been very busy this week," said Overstreet. "A few days ago, we started at 4 a.m."
Morning activity always starts early at the airport as the first red-eye flights from Asia land before dawn, but on few weeks has business begun as early as this week. To prepare for their crunch yesterday, some JAL managers and ticket agents began work at 3:30 a.m.
The big crowds this week have not passed through the airport without a few complaints about long waits. But by yesterday, most airline and tour officials were satisfied. "Today, the processing time was shorter," said ANAs Mori-moto. "But there were some delays on New Years Day and Jan. 2."
Said JALs Ikeda: "Its a spot thing, but we didnt have any undue holdups."
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