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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, December 28, 2006

Rising airfares unlikely to stop Japanese visits

Video: Japanese tourists react to airfare hikes

By Lynda Arakawa
Advertiser Staff Writer

Response to planned fare increases by Japan's largest airlines was mixed yesterday with airline and tourism officials saying the impact will be minimal, but some tourists saying it makes visiting more difficult.

Japan Airlines and All Nippon Airways said Tuesday they plan to raise some fares to Hawai'i and other North American destinations by 7 percent beginning April 1.

"It is for me not good news," said Saaya Takano, who has visited Hawai'i with her parents about 10 times. The 21-year-old student said she will still likely visit Hawai'i with her parents who will pay her way but that it may be difficult to pay for her own trips with her friends.

Japanese arrivals so far this year are down 8.9 percent. Tourism officials have blamed factors such as higher airline fuel surcharges, more expensive and fewer available hotel rooms and stronger competition from other destinations.

Japan Airlines reported bookings to Hawai'i for the New Year's holiday period are down 3.2 percent compared with the same time last year, while travel to Asian destinations is up.

Some officials said the fare increase shouldn't further damage the market.

"I just can't imagine that a 7 percent increase would affect the marketplace that much," said state tourism liaison Marsha Wienert. "There are many other things that are affecting the marketplace today. The competition is out there, ... a lot of Japanese are traveling internally, and they have had some difficulty in (getting) rooms here."

Stephen Pearlman, public relations manager for Japan Airlines Corp., said his airline's fare increase applies only to full-fare tickets and not discount fares issued by airlines. The "vast majority" of passengers traveling from Japan to Hawai'i for leisure or business purchase discount tickets, he said.

Japan Airlines also previously announced that it will reduce its fuel surcharge on international tickets on Monday. Fuel surcharges on flights to Hawai'i will go from $83 each way to $74.

Tokyo resident Angelo Ishi, visiting Waikiki yesterday, said despite higher fares, Japanese will continue to come to Hawai'i.

"If this increase is not so high, it should not substantially affect the influx of Japanese here," said Ishi, a 39-year-old sociology professor. "For Japanese people, Hawai'i is one of the main destinations when they think about safe and good and beautiful resorts."

Ishi, who usually flies on Northwest Airlines, said he and his wife plan to return to Hawai'i but not before traveling to other destinations, including Asian resorts.

"We want to know other resorts," he said.

Gilbert Kimura, JAL director of passenger sales and public relations based in Honolulu, said the fare increase won't have much of an impact on Japanese travel here.

"If they want to go, they'll go," he said. "Hawai'i has traditionally been the single most popular destination. ... The Japanese feel very comfortable here."

Kimura attributed the decline in Japanese visitors this year in part to stronger competition by other destinations, like China and Korea, as well as limited and more expensive hotel rooms.

Kimura also said Hawai'i as a destination needs to offer repeat visitors new attractions, and that new developments, such as Outrigger Enterprises' Waikiki Beach Walk project, may help.

"I personally feel that we don't really have to worry that we're going to lose the Japanese," he said. "They will go to other destinations, but they will always come back to Hawai'i."

Akio Hoshino, senior vice president of travel agency JALPAK International Hawaii, a subsidiary of Japan Airlines, also said the fare increase which affects other international flights shouldn't cause any significant change in arrivals to Hawai'i. JAL also plans to raise domestic fares in Japan.

"All the destinations have the same situation, so it will affect some, but it won't be serious," he said. He noted that the changes in Waikiki, such as the Beach Walk project and Royal Hawaiian Shopping Center renovation, should generate excitement about the area.

Bookings between January and March "are still not strong, but not as bad as this year," he said.

The state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism projects 2007 Japanese visitor arrivals to grow 2.5 percent compared with this year, mainly based on the assumption that the Japanese economy will not slide next year. In January, the department had projected Japanese arrivals would grow 2.9 percent this year, but has since reduced its projection as visitor numbers fell.

Reach Lynda Arakawa at larakawa@honoluluadvertiser.com.

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