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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, May 4, 2010

They can still get to Kona

While the discontinuation of direct flights from Tokyo to Kona later this year is regrettable, no one should hold on to unrealistic hopes that they will return.

Only the most slender of financial threads is holding Japan Air Lines aloft, and it's amazing that the airline has been running huge Boeing 767s to Kona for as long as it has, especially with the planes running only 72 percent full.

The cancellation of the Kona flight will probably mean about 70,000 fewer visitors to the Big Island from Japan. Executives of the Hawai'i Tourism Authority and state tourism liaison Marsha Wienert are saying and doing all of the right things, including trying to persuade other airlines to come in to Kona, but realistically, that's probably not going to happen until the recession wanes. Even then, it's a long shot.

While the Big Island holds some fascination for the Japanese, the vast majority still gravitate toward the big-city attractions of Honolulu. Kona itself is a day-tripper's paradise, more suited to cruise ships than lengthy stays.

Once you leave town, the rural charms of the Big Island may not be enough to hold the interest of increasingly cosmopolitan Japanese tourists. We hope no one spends a lot of time and money trying to coax United, Delta and All Nippon to provide new direct flights; the HTA, Hawai'i County and companies threw $900,000 last year at marketing incentives aimed at keeping the JAL schedule to Kona.

Which leads us to the good news in all of this. JAL is adding a daily 767 flight from Tokyo's Haneda Airport to Honolulu later this year, providing more capacity to a place that the Japanese really want to see. And if they're hot to experience the Big Island, there are excellent interisland flights leaving practically every hour, offered by airlines that would be happy to see the business.