By Michele Kayal
Advertiser Staff Writer
Japans largest tour operator is projecting a record number of overseas travelers in 2001, and executives say Hawaii should see some of them as they take advantage of a government-sponsored program of long weekends.
The Japan Travel Bureau, the leading Japanese provider of Hawaii tours, yesterday forecast that a record 18.4 million people will venture overseas in 2001. The number would represent a 4.1 percent increase over the 2000 total. Thats a healthy increase, according to JTB executives, but not as strong as growth in 2000, which hit 8 percent.
"Generally speaking, the market is picking up well," said Yoshio Koteda, general manager of international relations. "Its difficult to forecast exactly for 2001 because the economic situation is not so steady yet. Its shaky considering the stock market in Japan and also the yen depreciation. ... The general trend is growth, but not so much compared to last year."
Japanese visitors are Hawaiis highest-spending group, and the decline in their numbers over the last few years has been felt across hotels, retailers, and other tourism businesses.
The international Japanese travelers are also expected to spend a total of $49.8 billion, or 3.6 percent more than in 2000. In 2000, international spending rose by nearly 7 percent.
Although JTB has no Hawaii-specific figures, Honolulu-based tour planning manager Yujiro Kuwabara expects the government-sponsored "Happy Monday" program to bring visitors to the Islands.
This year the program will provide eight three-day weekends, and one four-day weekend, the report said. Last year had only six three-day weekends.
"Guam is so close, even with two days they can go," Kuwabara said. "Because of the longer vacation, they like to go to a farther destination."
Koteda said Japanese visitors could be expected to go to the Neighbor Islands more than in the past.
"Oahu is so crowded, and now Japanese tourists want to appreciate more aloha spirit in other islands," he said. "And also the facilities, especially the hotels, are superior on, for instance, Maui, compared to those in Waikiki."
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