Sunday, November 29, 2015         

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Golden Week regains some shine for isle tourism

Arrivals from Japan are rising, but industry officials expect them to remain low overall

By Allison Schaefers


Golden Week bookings to Hawaii are improving as tourism officials begin marketing to Japan again and more of these visitors contemplate traveling.

However, arrivals from that market are expected to remain relatively soft until summer.

While travel to Hawaii during the first week of May is generally a "very high season among the Japa­nese people," Japan's Consul General Yoshi­hiko Kamo said yesterday following an address to state legislators, he does not expect as many people will be coming to Hawaii this holiday as have in the past.

"But after that week, perhaps late May or early June, I think the people are coming more in numbers to Hawaii," Kamo said. "You'll see more visitors from Japan quite soon."

Bookings for Golden Week, while down in Hawaii year-over-year, are better than expected for some members of the state's visitor industry, said Mike McCartney, president and chief executive of the Hawaii Tourism Authority.

"I don't think that we'll match our numbers from last year, but the decline is not as severe as anticipated," McCartney said.

That's true of the Japan market in general, he said. Japan arrivals were up 8.2 percent in February from the prior year, but began falling after March 11 and are still down 28 percent this month, McCartney said.

McCartney left for Japan earlier this week along with David Uchi­yama, HTA vice president of brand management, and Ron Williams, HTA board chairman. The trip preceded Friday's start of Golden Week, which is usually robust for Hawaii since in more normal circumstances Japanese visitors like to take advantage of the alignment of four holidays in five working days, McCartney said.

"We are going there to talk about restarting the market," he said.

They will meet with Japanese airline and travel partners to discuss business opportunities and to show their support at the end of the country's traditional 49-day mourning period, McCartney said.

"We had to wait until an appropriate time had passed to begin discussions about how to market to Japan again," he said.

Kamo said that many Japa­nese refrained from having fun out of respect for tsunami victims; however, more than 500,000 cancellations later, Japan's domestic tourism had suffered a heavy blow.

"Accordingly, there has emerged a growing apprehension that excessive self-restraint does more harm than good to the stricken area as it slows down the economy," he said. "Hawaii's appeal to Japa­nese tourists remains unchanged. Nature, people, history, safety, cleanliness and proximity all contribute to alluring Japa­nese to Hawaii. You can count on our loyalty."

It helps that Japanese officials are telling workers to travel to pump up the economy and relieve stress, said Dave Erdman, president and CEO of PacRim Marketing Group.

Erdman, whose company manages a Japa­nese-language booking site for about 50 hotels, said the pace of Golden Week bookings has come back from a dramatic slowdown at the beginning of March.

"We basically lost a whole month of bookings," Erdman said. "However, the pace has picked up quite well for Golden Week and forward."

Flight support has helped the destination, he said.

Japan Airlines, which has seen its passenger count for Golden Week slide by 41 percent, restored its daily flight between Narita and Hono­lulu on Monday, and it will continue through May 9, said Winston Lee, director of sales and public relations for Japan Airlines, Hawaii region. From May 10 to 22, the restored flight will be suspended for a nonconsecutive eight-day period, but it will resume May 23, Lee said.

The carrier also will add nine extra flight sections for Golden Week, he said.

Hawaiian Airlines, which offers daily service between Haneda and Hono­lulu, will add a round-trip charter from Osaka during Golden Week, said Mark Dunkerley, president and CEO of Hawaiian Airlines.

"Golden Week bookings have been robust," Dunkerley said.

Shari Chang, senior vice president of sales, marketing and revenue management for Aston Hotels & Resorts?, said younger families are coming for Golden Week and electing to stay longer.

While Aston has lost some of its group incentive business from Japan, most of its FIT (free and independent travelers) have kept their leisure plans, she said.

"We took the biggest hits in March and April, and we'll see some of that continue into May; however, as we move toward June and July, the pace is recovering," she said.

On-beach hotels with higher percentages of Japa­nese visitors, like Hilton Hawaiian Village and Sheraton Waikiki, are experiencing greater declines for Golden Week and beyond; however, hotel executives say that response from other markets is keeping them stable.

Golden Week bookings are about 5 percent down from last year, said Keith Vieira, senior vice president and director of operations for Starwood Hotels & Resorts in Hawaii and French Polynesia.

Some U.S. groups have filled shortfalls in Japan travel, Vieira said.

"Our market is rebounding," he said. "We hope by the middle of summer to be back to last year's numbers."

Jerry Gibson, area vice president for Hilton Hawaii, said Golden Week bookings by Japanese visitors at Hilton Hawaiian Village, the state's largest hotel, have declined by as much as 30 percent. However, bookings from the domestic wholesale market have picked up about 6 percent, and group business is up about 7 percent, said Gibson, who plans to meet with Japan wholesalers in May.

"We are working with the Japan market in the hopes that when they feel that they can travel again that they will," he said. "They are very important to our hotel and to the state's tourism industry."

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