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Saturday, December 20, 2014         

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Japan disaster shows need to diversify isle visitor base


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Bracing for what is sure to be a significant downturn in the aftermath of the earthquakes, tsunami and nuclear breach in Japan, Hawaii's travel industry is looking elsewhere for tourists to offset cancellations.

Japan will remain an important source — and certainly, the massive recovery to normalcy for the stricken Japanese is the dire Job One — but isle tourism officials are wise to move on increased marketing in other venues while rebuilding occurs.

That said, as gestures of empathy and aloha, there also should be creative incentives and affordable packages offered to those Japanese who can travel and might be eager for respite.

Hawaii's tourism industry took hits by the Kobe earthquake in 1995, the swine flu epidemic in 2009 and the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the U.S., but this month's disaster could surpass them after a blow that occurred during what continues to be recovery from a worldwide recession. Japanese visitors to Hawaii numbered 1.2 million last year, down by 1 million from 1996.

The Hawaii Tourism Authority expects April will be the peak of the shortfall. It plans to launch a marketing campaign in Japan after helping in the disaster recovery effort.

David Uchiyama, HTA vice president of brand management, told the Star-Advertiser's Allison Schaefers that it will concentrate on new business from North America, Oceania, Korea and China to offset the shortfall in Japan market.

A special marketing program will be aimed at secondary cities such as Portland, Ore., Dallas, San Diego, Sacramento and Phoenix, according to John Monahan, president and chief executive officer of the Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau.

Much of the emphasis in marketing has been on Japan, the third-largest tourism source outside the western and eastern U.S., and for good reason. Beyond the sheer numbers of visitors, Japanese tourists spend an average of $274 a day on food, hotels and shopping, while visitors from western mainland states average $146.

The HTA plans to try increasing travel to Hawaii from Australia and New Zealand as well as securing charter flights directly from China. Shanghai-based China Eastern Airlines brought the first direct charter flights from China to Hawaii last month and has applied for permission to operate regularly scheduled nonstop flights between China and Hawaii. Visa requirements, unfortunately, remain a deterrent.

Europe could be a possible source of increased travel, to which eTurboNews publisher Jurgen T. Steinmetz of Haleiwa has accused HTA of paying too little attention.

"Europeans not only love to travel but get a lot of vacation time," Steinmetz told Forbes magazine last week. "Where Americans might stay for days, European tourists can afford to think in terms of weeks."

However, while tourists from Europe do stay a bit longer, they account for little more than 1.5 percent of visitors to the islands. Until direct flights between Europe and Hawaii are established, the disaster in Japan should not divert HTA from continuing to offer visibility, support and relief in those areas that have been the industry's bread and butter for decades.






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