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Tuesday, November 25, 2014         

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Local carrier learning ways of Japanese

By Dave Segal

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Hawaiian Airlines is perennially ranked as the No. 1 carrier in the United States for customer service.

But Chief Executive Officer Mark Dunkerley said the company will have to go to even greater lengths when it begins its service to Japan on Wednesday and to South Korea in January.

"There's a lot of care and attention that goes into the execution of these new routes," he said. "People tend to think of our business as being very operationally focused of flying there and flying back. Clearly, it's a very important part, but whether we're successful has every bit as much to do with how we sell into these markets and the kind of strategy we have around marketing our services in these markets."

Dunkerley said Hawaiian has paid particular attention to what he calls the "soft skills," namely service. He said the company recognizes that to connect with its Japanese customers, it needs to understand their culture and service expectations. To that extent, the airline has been training its flight attendants and customer service personnel by using the same training professionals who designed training programs for the Halekulani Hotel in Waikiki.

"We've been very clear about two things," Dunkerley said. "One is we are the carrier of Hawaii, and our service and our product on board have to be authentically Hawaiian. That is our stock and trade, and we will never leave that sort of sense of identity apart of what we do. At the same time, we've got to recognize and respect that the Japanese consumer is different than the U.S. consumer, so it's important that we modify our service to achieve both."

The airline will provide a Hawaiian-theme quilt to business-class customers to use during the flight, and a snack that is wrapped in a bright, floral cloth omiyage -- a souvenir -- that will be given to all customers just before landing.

The in-flight menu has been designed by renowned Honolulu chef Chai Chaowasaree, whose pan-Asian cuisine will be paired with wines selected by Master Sommelier Chuck Furuya.

Hawaiian's in-flight entertainment will include audio programming channels featuring popular Japanese musical artists, along with performances of traditional and contemporary Hawaiian music by Hawaii artists. A video feature that will be provided to customers on their return flight home from Honolulu to Haneda will be a current, day-of-departure broadcast of NHK TV News.

Both Japanese and American movies with Japanese voice-overs and English subtitles will be shown in-flight.

Dunkerley said Hawaiian also has had to be flexible about how tickets are sold.

"When in Rome, do as the Romans do," Dunkerley said. "Each of these markets has a system of distribution of selling tickets that has a very local flavor to it, and it's important when we go into these markets we align ourselves with how the markets actually work in those two countries rather than coming in and saying, 'We're Hawaiian Airlines, and this is the way we do it.'"

He said Hawaiian has had to leave behind its preconceived notion about how it sells tickets on the mainland and has had to adopt to the local environment.

"In Japan the tour operators are a very important channel for selling tickets," Dunkerley said. "That's not the case on the mainland. On the mainland the Internet is a much more important way of selling tickets. So we're spending a lot of time with the tour operators."

He also said a letter of intent that Hawaiian signed to enter into a commercial arrangement with ANA, one of the two biggest carriers of Japan, will allow Hawaiian to mine ANA's expertise in selling tickets and marketing services in Japan.

Hawaiian's flight will depart Honolulu daily at 6:05 p.m. and arrive at Haneda at 10:05 p.m. the next day. The return flight will depart Haneda at 11:59 p.m. and arrive in Honolulu at 12:05 p.m. the same day. Tokyo is 19 hours ahead of Honolulu.

Round-trip retail fares start at $688 for midweek during the low season, excluding a fuel surcharge of $128 and taxes. The low season is Jan. 7-April 24, Oct. 23-Dec. 6 and Dec. 25-Jan. 1.






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