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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, March 27, 2003

Japan Airlines discontinues two daily flights to Hawai'i

By Dan Nakaso and Kelly Yamanouchi
Advertiser Staff Writers

"The concern that our company would have is whether JAL has gone too far with these cuts."

Sharon Weiner, DFS-Hawai'i vice president, HTA member

Japan Airlines' decision to cut two daily flights to Hawai'i did not surprise tourism executives, who have begun seeing a drop in Japanese bookings. Still they hope the number of flights will increase as soon as the war with Iraq ends.

At least one tourism official, Sharon Weiner, vice president for travel retailer DFS-Hawai'i, who is also a member of the Hawai'i Tourism Authority, worries that Japan Airlines may have cut too many flights to Hawai'i in response to dwindling Japanese demand.

Japan Airlines said Tuesday it would cut one flight from Tokyo and one from Osaka for most of April "due to a fall in demand attributed to the Iraq situation." The decision takes away roughly 800 seats per day and represents the first major flight reductions to Hawai'i since the start of the war last week. Japan Airlines said the number of customers flying to Hawai'i has dropped 40 percent since the start of the war compared with last year.

"Some concern should be expressed that the amount that JAL is cutting may be more than is really required under the circumstances," Weiner said.

"We believe that the state should make some effort to talk to JAL about maybe reinstating some of the flights — not having such a severe reduction."

Japan Airlines spokesman Geoff Tudor said, "The suspensions so far are only for April. We hope to resume the full schedule as soon as conditions permit."

"We have been doing a lot to try to promote Hawai'i because it is our biggest single tourist destination, but we can't just keep the full operation rolling with this drop in the market."

AL Rex Johnson, executive director of the HTA, said there's nothing that the tourism authority can do to prevent Japan Airlines from making the cuts.

Some hotel officials, however, said Japanese bookings have fallen and Japan Airlines is merely reacting to the normal reduction of Japanese visitors after events such as a U.S. war or the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

"JAL is responding to demand, not the other way around," said Peter Jenkins, vice president of sales and market development for Outrigger Hotels and Resorts. "Generally, we've found in the past that when you've got military conflicts or 9/11 incidents, the Japanese are more conservative in their travel than say Canadians or Americans. ... We expect them to go aground for a while."

Outrigger is projecting a 20 percent drop in Japanese bookings for March and advance Japanese bookings for April "have come to a halt," he said. The pattern has been repeated in Outrigger's Australian properties, Jenkins said.

Frank Lavey, general manager of the Hyatt Regency Waikiki Resort & Spa, called the JAL cutbacks "unfortunate, but somewhat expected."

"I think we all feel that once there are signs that the war is close to concluding, there will be an immediate pick-up in demand," he said.

Japanese tourists are reluctant to fly during the war out of concern for safety and a sense that it is improper to vacation in a country while it is fighting a war.

"The decreasing number of the passengers from Japan is not because of the air-seat cuts," said David Asanuma, manager of community relations for the Hawaii office of JTB, Japan's largest travel agency. "The problem is the departure side."