Japan Airlines will resume flights to Hawai'i in April
By Katherine Nichols and David Butts
Advertiser Staff Writers
A full recovery of Japanese tourism to Hawai'i could be as much as six months away, according to Japan Airlines' latest statement on when it hopes to resume its pre-Sept. 11 flight schedule.
JAL, the largest international carrier serving Hawai'i, cut its 75 weekly flights to the Islands to 51 on Nov. 1. The airline said it would reinstate the dropped flights as soon as demand warranted.
Next week JAL will announce plans to gradually begin adding flights in April, but not be back to pre-Sept. 11 levels until June at the earliest, said spokesman Geoff Tudor.
"Based on our estimates of traffic recovery trends on our Japan-Hawai'i routes, we reckon that we should be back at normal capacity and frequency by June," Tudor said. "That's the tentative plan."
The airline hopes to have "some 68 flights a week in June, increasing to over 70 per week in July and up to 80 flights a week in August at the peak vacation season," Tudor said, adding that the airline will release the details next week.
The Sept. 11 terrorist attacks led to a more than 50 percent decline in Japanese arrivals to Hawai'i. While arrivals from the Mainland have returned to pre-attack levels, Japanese tourists are still reluctant to travel to Hawai'i.
Japanese visitors to O'ahu are expected to be down 47 percent in January from a year ago, said Sharon Weiner, group vice president for retailer DFS Hawaii.
In December, advanced bookings on JAL were 30 percent below the previous year. The worst month was November, when passenger demand dropped 40 percent. Estimates for the approaching months show some improvement, however. Predictions indicate that passenger demand may be off by only 15 percent by March.
Japanese tourism has been bombarded from many directions: the yen is at a three-year low against the dollar; the Japanese economy is in recession; and the government has issued advisories on the risk of traveling to locations that house United States military bases.
"The damage to the airline and travel industries on a global basis is really enormous and we have to say that it will take much more time than we thought for ... demand and revenue to return to pre-Sept. 11 levels," Tudor said.
Weiner, whose DFS stores cater to Japanese tourists, thinks much of the problem now points to marketing.
"We know there's desire, but we haven't been able to transform desire into demand, and that's a marketing problem," said Weiner, whose company has laid off 70 full-time employees and cut the equivalent of about 300 workers through reduced work hours since Sept. 11. Marketing "should be much more competitive and much more aggressive than it is currently in Japan."
Weiner said marketing should be targeted more specifically toward Japanese travel agents who focus on certain programs, such as weddings or honeymoons. Right now, she said, the pitch is too generic, she said.
Even Guam is outmarketing Hawai'i, she said. And increased competition is coming from Shanghai.
"Now Shanghai is the hottest fashionable city in Asia," and one of the most popular destinations for Japanese travelers, said Takahiro Kono, president of Japan Report, a Hawai'i-based company that studies the Japanese market.
Kono said that as demand has increased for flights to places such as Shanghai and now Seoul, South Korea, with the approach of soccer's World Cup in late May, airlines in Japan are adding flights to those destinations instead of Hawai'i.
"What we've been doing since last October is adding capacity to routes where demand is unaffected or stronger," Tudor said. "China is one destination where demand has been strong. Korea is another sector where there's been steady demand."