Will 'no smoking' mean less tourism?
By Lynda Arakawa
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Lynda Arakawa
apanese smokers have become more tolerant of smoking bans when they travel, so a new state law that prohibits lighting up in bars and airports starting on Nov. 16 shouldn't scare away potential customers, Hawai'i tourism officials said.
The law bans smoking in airports, bars and nightclubs, raising some questions about the impact on an already-sluggish Japanese visitor market.
Few in the industry, however, say the new smoking restrictions will turn off Japanese visitors to Hawai'i.
"They are used to the idea of how difficult it is to smoke outside of Japan," said Kiyoko Tanji, general manager of state marketer Hawai'i Tourism Japan, who added that fewer Japanese are smoking nowadays. When smoking was banned on flights from Japan, it didn't stop people from traveling, Tanji said.
Japanese tourists account for about 20 percent of all visitors, and they typically spend more money daily, making them a critical source of income for many businesses.
That's why any change in rules that may upset Japanese tourists is a concern for tourism executives.
What's more, the expanded smoking ban comes at a time when the Japanese market already is falling. Japanese arrivals have declined every month this year compared will last year.
Still, there doesn't appear to be much resistance to the new law in the travel industry.
"I do not believe that it's going to increase the softness in the Japanese market," said state tourism liaison Marsha Wienert. "Most people will see this as being positive."
Stephen Kawagishi, CEO of Japan Hawaii Travel Association, agreed.
"Probably the impact would be minimal," Kawagishi said. "I think even the Japanese are kind of used to that."
Kawagishi said he knows of a travel agency that sells packages to small groups of Japanese smokers. The manager of that agency is worried about how many smoking rooms will be available, but Kawagishi said otherwise there are few concerns.
Hawai'i or smoking?
Several Japanese smokers visiting Ala Moana Center last week were not pleased to learn of the new rules.
M. Kakimoto, a fiftysomething English teacher in Tokyo who declined to give her first name, said she's disappointed there will be fewer places here to smoke, but said she'll still continue visiting Hawai'i every year anyway.
"I love Hawai'i," Kakimoto said. "Probably I would try to find someplace I could smoke."
But the expanded smoking prohibitions may be too much for dentist Kazuma Tokunaga, 45.
"He doesn't want to come to Hawai'i because of the smoking ban," said his friend, Brenda Lise.
Mioko Tanaka, a 45-year-old bookkeeper, said the smoking restrictions would be tough on her.
"But I like Hawai'i," she said. "I'll come back again."
Hawaii Hotel and Lodging Association president Murray Towill said he doesn't think the smoking ban will have much of an impact on Japanese tourists.
"I think that's an area (Japanese tourists) where there's probably more concern than in other markets, but even there, people will adapt and cope with it," he said.
"From the standpoint of at least the hospitality industry, it's not a dramatic change from what we have now," Towill said, adding that some hotels already are smoke-free, and county ordinances ban smoking in restaurants. At least in Honolulu, smoking also is banned in public areas of hotels such as lobbies, he said.
The trend clearly favors the nonsmoker.
The Westin Maui Resort & Spa was smoke-free before the Westin chain announced a smoking ban in its 77 U.S., Canadian and Caribbean properties beginning this year.
Last month Marriott International Inc., the nation's largest hotel chain, said it will ban smoking in all of its hotel rooms in the U.S. and Canada. Marriott said the decision was largely for guest satisfaction.
"There's rhetoric and discussion around the fact that maybe the Japanese will react to this, but so far we have not seen that," said Ed Hubennette, vice president of Marriott International Inc. in Japan, Hawai'i & South Pacific. Japanese visitors make up about a quarter of Marriott's guests in Hawai'i.
Hubennette said although there isn't a total smoking ban internationally, the trend among governments in Asian countries such as Singapore, Thailand and Malaysia is to go no-smoking. Many hotels in Asia also designate 70 to 80 percent of its rooms no-smoking, he said.
Guest feedback about Westin Maui Resort & Spa's smoke-free policy has been "overwhelmingly positive," said general manager Craig Anderson. He said the smoking ban didn't cause a drop in Japanese visitors, which make up about 8 percent of the guests.
Anderson said the smoke-free policy was consistent with the resort's emphasis toward wellness, but there was also a practical reason.
"The truth is 90-something percent of our guests requested non-smoking rooms, and it became more of a hassle to try to find somebody a room that didn't smell like smoke with the volume of people who were looking for that kind of thing," Anderson said.
In the meantime, the Hawaii Hotel & Lodging Association will meet with the state Department of Health to clarify rules hoteliers need to follow. For example, the law allows up to 20 percent of the guest rooms to be smoking rooms, but it's unclear whether guests can smoke on the lanais of those rooms, Towill said. There also are questions about limitations on pool decks and around swimming pools, he said.
NO BUTTS ABOUT IT
Jim Boersema, managing partner of Zanzabar Nightclub, supports the smoking ban and said it shouldn't be a problem for Asian tourists.
"Usually they're very respectful of other cultures when they travel," he said. "Even though they may like to smoke, they'll respect the fact that they're in Hawai'i, and they just won't do it.
"I don't think it's going to impact us in a major negative way. I think there are individuals who will feel put out a little bit because they can't smoke. But I think they will still come to the nightclub and be good customers and good people."
Boersema also said the ban offers some benefits for bars and nightclubs. He said it will save his staff from cleaning up cigarettes and ashes and protect the club's furniture from cigarette burns.
Reach Lynda Arakawa at email@example.com.