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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, March 25, 2003

State sees drop in weekend visitors

By Kelly Yamanouchi
Advertiser Staff Writer

International passenger counts through the weekend and yesterday were down more than 30 percent compared with a year ago as the outbreak of the Iraqi war continued to take its toll on the tourism industry.

The numbers of Mainland visitors, who helped offset declines in Japanese and other overseas visitors earlier this month, eroded over the weekend.

The total passenger count was down between 12 percent and 21.9 percent on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, compared with the same days a year ago. The number of domestic passengers declined 14.7 percent Friday, 19.3 percent Saturday and 5.9 percent Sunday.

Domestic figures for yesterday were not immediately available yesterday.

Businesses and visitor attractions that cater to tourists say they have begun to feel the pinch.

"Definitely we're seeing an impact from the reductions in visitor arrivals," said J. Alan Walker, regional vice president for Japan sales for the Polynesian Cultural Center.

The trends are a drop in older Japanese visitors, a group known as the silver market, and corporate and school groups, whose sponsors are concerned about their safety.

"Employers don't want to put people at risk," Walker said. "The silver market is much more sensitive to these types of international events and so right now we're not seeing them. And that happens to be unfortunately one of our better markets." One reason is they tend to spend more than other visitors.

Those still coming tend to be people who are less hesitant about traveling, including Mainland visitors and some 20- and 30-year-olds from Japan.

Doug and Lisa Sharp from Tucson, Ariz., visiting on Kaua'i, said they had no trouble deciding to take their vacation trip to Hawai'i despite the start of the war.

"I would have thought twice if we had been going to Europe or China," Doug Sharp said. "I feel perfectly safe here."

While the Sharps and others like them are helping to make up for the declining international visitor numbers, the drop-off among high-spending Japanese tourists is a concern.

"It's quite a bit of a slowdown," said Chris Kam, director of market trends for the Hawai'i Visitors and Convention Bureau. "A lot of it has to do with concerns over Iraq but also more of a concern over tensions with North Korea. That may be playing a role."

Though the numbers show a clear decline, Glenn Ifuku, the state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism interim economics administrator, said it is difficult to gauge the effect on visitor arrivals from the daily passenger counts, which include returning and intended residents.

The state issues visitor arrivals figures on a monthly basis based on surveys.

Walker said when there are fewer visitors coming, businesses need to be more aggressive. He said he just returned from a trip to Japan to meet with travel agents, and though it is clear Japanese tourism to Hawai'i is down, there is optimism for a quick end to the war.

Some people are booking trips for the summer, "so it looks like a lot of the customer base is probably feeling that the war will be short-lived and they're already making plans," Walker said.

"If it's just one month they feel that it'll be something that the industry can rebound from," Walker said. "If it's drawn out longer than a month, there's a feeling that the negative impact on tourism to Hawai'i and other tourism destinations will be significant."

It hasn't gotten to the point where the Polynesian Cultural Center is offering lower prices for Japanese visitors, but the center is targeting more kama'aina business, Walker said.

Advertiser staff writer Jan TenBruggencate contributed to this report. Reach Kelly Yamanouchi at 535-2470 or at kyamanouchi@honoluluadvertiser.com.