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The Honolulu Advertiser

Updated at 4:29 p.m., Tuesday, January 9, 2007

Hawai'i launches new campaign to attract Japanese

Advertiser Staff Writer

Waikiki's ongoing revitalization and Hawai'i's unique culture will be the focus of a new $8 million state marketing plan for 2007, which aims to reverse the decline in Japanese visitors.

The campaign, unveiled by Hawai'i Tourism Japan yesterday, shares similar features with last year's campaign, which highlighted running, romance, hula and other familiar Hawai'i activities.

However, this year's plan will depart from recent campaigns by featuring Japanese actress Mayumi Sada. The face of Hawai'i's Japan marketing effort for the last three years has been ukulele virtuoso Jake Shimabukuro.

Through November, Japanese visitor arrivals were down nearly 9 percent. Takashi Ichikura, executive director of Hawai'i Tourism Japan, blamed the decline on fewer airline seats from Japan to Hawai'i, rising fuel surcharges on air travel, rising hotel charges and a weakening of the Japanese yen. Hawai'i Tourism Japan was hired by the state to promote Hawai'i in Japan.

"With the rising fuel surcharge and other cost factors, Hawai'i now looks expensive in Japanese consumers' eyes, and they expect Hawai'i to be a refined and sophisticated destination to match the price they are paying," Ichikura said. "It is also important to communicate that Hawai'i offers events and festivals in which the visitors can participate as well as many attractive features that are authentic to Hawai'i and at the same time still not known to the Japanese.

"And particularly with the Waikiki revitalization project ongoing, we must also communicate that Hawai'i is constantly evolving to change the consumer's perception of Hawai'i being a destination that is always there, unchanging, therefore, there's no need to go there now."

Several redevelopment projects are upgrading the face of Waikiki including Outrigger Enterprises Group's Waikiki Beach Walk project and Kamehameha Schools' renovation of the Royal Hawaiian Shopping Center.

Despite the drop in Japanese visitors, Hawai'i remains the top preferred travel destination among Japanese, Ichikura said. Japanese visitors remain an important segment of Hawai'i's $12 billion tourism trade, in part because they typically spend more money than other visitors. Fortunately for Hawai'i, the recent decline in arrivals from Japan has been mostly offset by a rise in domestic visitors.

The effort to woo Japanese travellers will get a boost this spring with a voyage by the Polynesian voyaging canoe Hokule'a, which is expected to visit eight Japanese ports. Several Japanese magazines and TV shows are planing to cover the trip.

"At the same time, Hawai'i tourism will benefit from this voyage, which reminds the Japanese people of Hawai'i and of the close ties we have with Hawai'i," Ichikura said.

Shimabukuro, known for his frenetic 'ukulele stylings, will play a more limited role in the advertising campaign than in recent years. Instead, the campaign will feature Sada, who has acted in recent Japanese films "Henshin" and "Masked Rider: The First" and in the TV series "Hana Yori Dango," according to the Internet Movie Database.

The campaign, called "Discover Aloha," is meant to depict the experiences of a female visitor who experiences the feeling of aloha through various encounters that could only happen in Hawai'i. The effort includes two posters featuring hula and lei-making and another showing Sada reflecting on her Hawai'i experiences from a lanai overlooking the ocean.

TV commercials will feature the song "Discover Aloha," which was written by local entertainer Amy Hanaiali'i Gilliom.

Dentsu, a major Tokyo-based advertising firm, took over the Japan tourism marketing contract for the state of Hawai'i on Jan. 1, 2004, displacing the Hawai`i Visitors & Convention Bureau.

The agency formed the nonprofit Hawai`i Tourism Japan to carry out the state contract.

Reach Sean Hao at shao@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8093.