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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Wednesday, June 11, 2003

Japan Airlines to restore daily Honolulu flights

By Dan Nakaso
Advertiser Staff Writer

Beginning next month, Japan Airlines will increase its Osaka-Honolulu flights from seven to 14 per week and its weekly Tokyo-Honolulu flights from 14 to 21. State tourism officials welcomed the announcement.

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Tourism officials and economists are hopeful they'll see a Japanese rebound in time for the important summer season following yesterday's announcement that Japan Airlines will add more daily flights from Japan to Honolulu.

Asia's largest airline said it will add one more Honolulu flight per day out of both Tokyo and Osaka. Beginning next month, Japan Airlines will increase its Osaka flights from seven to 14 per week. Its 14 weekly Tokyo flights will jump to 21, which is seven fewer than normal for the summer season.

By August, JAL officials hope to be flying their normal 28 Tokyo trips per week, spokesman Gilbert Kimura said.

"Things are looking a little better," Kimura said. "The war has ended. SARS, for the perception of many people in Japan, has been controlled."

JAL cut its Honolulu flights in April and again in May after the severe acute respiratory syndrome outbreak and lingering effects from the Iraq war dampened Japanese interest in traveling abroad.

The earlier announcements had worried Hawai'i travel officials, particularly those who cater to Japanese tourists. Arrivals from Japan fell sharply this spring. For April, the latest monthly figures available, Japanese visitors to the state fell 33.2 percent to 67,401 compared to the same month last year.

While Mainland tourists have kept Hawai'i's economy running, Japanese visitors spend more per person, and a severe drop in their numbers takes a toll.

"Japanese arrivals were the particular weak point of tourism in Hawai'i," said Andy Kish, associate economist for Economy.com. "That's been pretty hard for retailers because the Japanese tourists is quite high spending compared to other groups. Any time you can increase the volume of tourists, it's definitely a good thing for the industry."

Japanese customers make up 94 percent of sales for duty-free retailer DFS Hawai'i. Revenue for the year is off 10 percent from last year and down 40 percent compared with 2001, said Sharon Weiner, DFS Group vice president.

"The No. 1 reason for these declines, from all of our research, is the decline in (Japanese) arrivals," she said.

JAL's announcement, Weiner said, is great news for the state.

Hawai'i hotels have adjusted and grown to rely on the steady Mainland market. So the return of more Japanese tourists for the summer will be a bonus, said Joseph Toy, president of Hospitality Advisors LLC, which tracks hotel trends.

"Hopefully, it signals that the Japanese market is stabilizing," Toy said. "We've been increasingly dependent on the U.S. market for the last couple of years. If the Japanese market can recover with it, it's a positive sign. But it's too early to tell whether that's occurring."

While Japanese travelers had been staying home, Kimura said, their desire for travel built up demand. And yesterday's announcement, he said, reflects a trend that could lead back to the normal 28 weekly flights from Tokyo to Honolulu.

"We're almost there," Kimura said.

Even before yesterday's announcement, tourism officials had been hoping the number of Japanese visitors would bounce back for July and August. Now they're more optimistic that August's numbers will compare to August 2002, said Tony Vericella, president of the Hawai'i Visitors and Convention Bureau.

Reach Dan Nakaso at dnakaso@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8085.