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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, April 21, 2006

Holiday travel from Japan slows

By Lynda Arakawa
Advertiser Staff Writer

Waikiki gets extra business from Japanese tourism during Golden Week, but bookings are slower than last year's because of the way the dates fall (April 29 to May 5 this year) and changing travel habits. Fuel costs have also made flights to Hawai'i more expensive.

GREGORY YAMAMOTO | The Honolulu Advertiser

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Golden Week may lose a bit of its sparkle this year.

Japan Airlines' bookings to Hawai'i for the string of Japanese holidays — which begins April 29 and ends May 5 — are down about 10 percent. Hawai'i trips booked through JTB, Japan's biggest travel agency, are also down 10 percent. Japanese tour operator JALPAK's Golden Week bookings to Hawai'i are lagging behind last year's figures.

A JTB report said the sequence of holidays makes it more difficult than last year to take a long break. That's encouraging more travel to closer destinations such as Asia, Guam and Saipan.

The number of passengers booked so far on Japan Airlines to come to Hawai'i for Golden Week is down about 10 percent to 27,000 this year, said Gilbert Kimura, director of passenger sales and public relations. Japan Airlines carries about 60 percent of all Japanese visitors to Hawai'i, he said.

Some Japanese visitors may book at the last minute, but the trend is down versus last year, Kimura said.

He said a factor in the decline could be that more visitors — especially younger ones — are taking trips during off-peak periods to avoid the higher travel costs and crowds associated with Golden Week.

"My view is more and more, the Japanese are getting smarter," he said.

Kimura and others said more Japanese workers have flexible schedules that allow them to travel outside of peak holiday periods.

"They will come, but ... strong peaks and valleys like before are slowly becoming a little more flat, which is good for Hawai'i —we can accommodate more of them," Kimura said. "If they come steady all year round, that's the best travel pattern."

Japanese arrivals have suffered in the first couple of months of this year, falling 7.3 percent in January and 12.6 percent in February compared to last year. Tourism officials have said the demand for Hawai'i trips is still strong, but blamed factors such as reduced availability of hotel rooms, a weaker yen and a cutback in scheduled flights from Japan. Overall Japanese outbound travel was also down in the beginning of the year.

JALPAK bookings for Golden Week are down about 5 percent from last year, said Ryokichi Tamaki, senior vice president of JALPAK International Hawaii Inc.

"After Golden Week, even May, June, July, it's still pretty slow," he said, noting that higher fuel surcharges have made airfares more expensive.

Sharon Weiner, DFS Hawaii group vice president, said she expects Golden Week arrivals to be "a little softer than last year" and noted more Japanese will probably take shorter trips because of the way the holidays fall.

"I think over the last decade, Golden Week has somewhat diminished in importance as a travel period, because of very expensive packages during that period," she said. More flexible travelers such as retirees or younger women will probably come at another time, she said.

"Whenever there's a decline, of course there's a concern, but it's not going to be a huge decline to last year," she said. "February was the low point for everybody. January and February. And so we would rather there weren't a decline but I think it's going to be not as substantial as the decline we saw in earlier months."

The number of passengers arriving in Hawai'i from Japan last month was 4.9 percent below last year. Arrivals so far in April are up 5.4 percent.

"The fact that the declines are less certainly shows improvement. Whether you can make up for it by the end of the year is a question mark."

Reach Lynda Arakawa at larakawa@honoluluadvertiser.com.