The September 11th attack
Japanese want to hear it's OK
By Andrew Gomes
Advertiser Staff Writer
The roughly 50 percent drop-off in Japanese visitors to Hawai'i since Sept. 11 may improve, but not likely by more than 20 percent over the next five months, according to one of the first surveys of Japanese sentiment toward future travel to the state.
Almost a quarter of respondents said they will not visit, and a quarter remain undecided. Another 7 percent said they had postponed travel.
The survey, with 367 respondents, suggests that if all those still undecided opted in favor of traveling as planned, the number of visitors from Japan could approach three-quarters of usual levels in the next several months.
However, the survey also was an indication that local businesses that rely on Japanese visitors, a key market for Hawai'i's tourism industry, will continue to suffer a decline of at least one-fourth the usual level well into the beginning of next year.
"There are a lot of undecided Japanese travelers out there, and if we can just sway them and convince them to come to Hawai'i, there's a lot of potential to be reaped," said Chris Kam, director of market trends for the Hawaii Visitors & Convention Bureau.
Dave Erdman, PacRim president, called the survey results encouraging, but said Japanese tourists want to be reassured that Hawai'i is safe, that businesses are open and that their visits will not be considered disrespectful.
"We believe it is important to educate the Japanese on our situation and encourage them to visit," he said.
Yujiro Kuwabara, planning and contracts general manager for Hawai'i's largest tour wholesaler, JTB Hawaii Inc., also said the message needs to be sent to the Japanese consumer that Hawai'i has not changed and that it's OK to come.
"Some Japanese people have a doubt that they can enjoy (themselves) if they come to Hawai'i now," he said.
Japanese tourism leaders have urged state officials to quickly reassure Japanese tourists that Hawai'i is a safe place to travel. Gov. Ben Cayetano is tentatively scheduled to visit Japan on Oct. 7-12, and former Govs. George Ariyoshi and John Waihe'e III are expected to join him.
According to survey responses, a feeling of guilt is a common deterrent.
"I couldn't go on a vacation when I love America so much and during a time when so many innocent people were sacrificed in the miserable incident," wrote one respondent.
Another respondent, who decided to come despite misgivings, wrote: "I worry about what locals will think of me. I'm going for a wedding, so I worry that the locals will think that this isn't the time to celebrate when so many of our citizens have died."
Kuwabara said he expects that Cayetano's trip to Japan next month will help persuade more Japanese consumers to come.
PacRim enlisted Hawai'i's popular 'ukulele artist Jake Shimabukuro to encourage Japanese travelers to visit, and is also working with the O'ahu Visitors Bureau and Maui Visitors Bureau to get the message into the Japanese media.
JTB, which has seen recent cancellations in the 40 percent range, is preparing a special campaign promoting tour package discounts through travel agents. The campaign should run mid-October through November.
An All Nippon Airways representative said the airline continues to assess passenger loads, which are "light as expected."
Officials with Japan Airlines could not be reached yesterday.
Reach Andrew Gomes at email@example.com or 525-8065.