Hawaii, which has long tied its economic future to Asia, is getting several boosts from throughout the region as major airlines increase service to the islands.
Hawaiian Airlines said yesterday it is expanding in Asia with nonstop, four-days-a-week service to South Korea in January. The new service to Seoul-Incheon International Airport will bring more than 54,000 seats a year into Hawaii and potentially could pump $100 million into the state’s economy, Hawaiian’s chief executive said.
And today in Japan, Delta Air Lines announced it will add daily Nagoya-Honolulu service starting on Dec. 22.
SPREADING ITS WINGS
Hawaiian Airlines will begin nonstop service between Honolulu and South Korea beginning next year.
It will be the carrier’s sixth international route:
» Where: Seoul-Incheon International Airport
The two additional routes are the latest in a recent string of announcements that indicate Hawaii is finding new favor among airlines.
"With the increase of seats we’ve seen so far and the seats coming online, we’re seeing our economy start to increase, especially where the visitor industry is concerned," said state tourism liaison Marsha Wienert.
Scheduled domestic and international air seats to Hawaii went into a tailspin after Aloha and ATA airlines shut down in spring 2008. Total air seats, which were 10.19 million in 2007, fell to
9.16 million in 2008 and decreased to 8.68 million in 2009.
But business is turning around with air seats for 2010 projected to hit 9.22 million.
In recent weeks Japan Airlines, which also serves Honolulu from Nagoya, All Nippon Airways and Hawaiian Airlines said they would begin daily service between Tokyo’s Haneda International Airport and Honolulu at the end of October.
In addition, the state has been in talks with several Chinese airlines about launching service to Hawaii.
And, apart from Asia, Alaska Airlines said last month it would begin nonstop service to Kauai from the California cities of Oakland and San Jose in March.
David Uchiyama, vice president of brand management for the Hawaii Tourism Authority, is not doing a victory dance yet.
"In terms of actual inventory into the state, we’re still between 2003 and 2004 levels," he said. "We’re nowhere close to the peak we saw in 2005 and 2006, but looking at it as a whole globally and what’s gone on in travel and the airline industry in particular, I think the efforts of our market contractors like HVCB (Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau) and some of the others really speak to the fact that we created interest and demand for the destination, and the airlines recognize an opportunity here."
Mike McCartney, HTA’s president and chief executive, said the Hawaiian flight not only will provide a new route out of Incheon, but also an alternative transfer point for travelers from China and other parts of Asia who are looking to visit Hawaii.
He said given that Korean visitors spent an average of $238 a person per day in the first quarter, the additional Hawaiian flight could generate up to $19.4 million in annual visitor expenditures.
"As Hawaiian grows, Hawaii grows," McCartney said. "Hawaiian Air is to Hawaii what Korean Air is to Korea. We’re excited about this new relationship because Asia is a gateway to Hawaii’s future. It will bring Asia to Hawaii and Hawaii to Asia."
Korean Air, a code-share partner of Hawaiian, operates 10 flights a week to Honolulu from Seoul-Incheon Airport.
Hawaiian, the state’s largest and oldest carrier, has long eyed the burgeoning Asian market as a way to expand its international presence. This will be the airline’s sixth international destination, with the launch to follow closely on the heels of Hawaiian’s new daily service to Tokyo’s Haneda International Airport, scheduled to begin in October. That route is awaiting final U.S. Department of Transportation approval, while the South Korea flight needs approval from that country’s Ministry of Land, Transport and Maritime Affairs.
Hawaiian also serves Sydney; Manila; Pago Pago, American Samoa; and Papeete, Tahiti.
"This is really a huge development for us when you look at a map," Hawaiian President and CEO Mark Dunkerley said. "It’s just another point on the map, but Korea is a rapidly expanding economy, the airport in Incheon is the best infrastructure in that part of the world, there will be great connection opportunities and we have a relationship with Korean Airlines that means a great deal for us.
So for all of these reasons, this is more than just another route."
In 2009, Korea visitor arrivals to Hawaii rose 44.2 percent to 54,957 from 38,110 in the previous year. Through May of this year, Korea visitor arrivals were up 85.4 percent to 33,304 from 17,961 over the same five months a year ago.
Hawaiian’s flight to South Korea will depart Honolulu on Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays at 1:15 p.m. and arrive at Incheon at 8 p.m. the following day. The return leg will depart Incheon on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays at 10 p.m. and arrive in Honolulu at 10:45 a.m. the same day.
"The two keys that helped unlock this door for us were the inclusion of South Korea in the U.S. waiver program (in November 2008) and the growing relationship with Korean Airlines," Dunkerley said. "We think the traffic between South Korea and Hawaii is going to grow well in excess of what the rest of the industry is going to grow, so we think there’s plenty of opportunity both for us and Korean Airlines, and this is the reason why we wanted to get into the market."