Hawaiian Airlines, expanding its reach into Asia for the second time in less than two months, launched its inaugural flight to South Korea yesterday as the fast-growing carrier marked another milestone in its 81-year history.
The new nonstop, four-times-a-week service will bring 54,000 seats a year into the Hawaii market and is expected to generate about $86.4 million in annual visitor spending, according to the Hawaii Tourism Authority. South Korea’s inclusion in November 2008 in the U.S. Visa Waiver Program, which allows Koreans to travel to the U.S. without a visa, opened the door for Hawaiian to expand in Asia beyond Manila (April 2008) and Tokyo (November).
"As we think about where the growth opportunities are for us in the coming years, we’re already the undisputed leader in interisland travel, we’re the leader in travel between Hawaii and the U.S. mainland, and the natural spot for us, where we see a lot of growth in tourism coming to Hawaii, is from Asia," Hawaiian Chief Financial Officer Peter Ingram said. "Today is a big step in terms of us becoming a leader in air travel between Hawaii and Asia."
With Hawaiian music, hula, a blessing and a Korean cultural dance commemorating the occasion, just under 100 passengers comprising mostly business leaders and professionals boarded the afternoon flight for the 11-hour, 39-minute trip to Incheon International Airport, just outside Seoul. When they left Honolulu, the temperature was about 79 degrees under rainy conditions. The expected high today when they arrived in Seoul, which is 19 hours ahead of Hawaii, was 32 degrees with the temperature dropping to a low of 8 degrees.
About 240 passengers are expected on the seven-hour, 45-minute return leg on the 264-seat Boeing 767-300ER flight that is due to arrive in Honolulu at 11 a.m. tomorrow.
"Today’s launch of direct service to Incheon International Airport in Seoul is positive news for Hawaii’s visitor industry and another sign that our tourism economy is continuing to recover," HTA President and Chief Executive Officer Mike McCartney said.
With Korean Air scheduled to increase its weekly flights between Seoul and Honolulu to 14 from 10 in February, that means the state will be on the receiving end of 18 flights a week from South Korea.
"This is another history-making day for Hawaiian as we expand even farther into Asia with our new flights to Seoul and introduce our unique brand of in-flight service that promotes the Hawaii and travel experience," said Mark Dunkerley, Hawaiian president and CEO, in a statement. Dunkerley flew to Seoul ahead of Hawaiian’s inaugural flight for meetings and to greet the flight upon its arrival.
Through the first 11 months of 2010, 79,131 Koreans visited Hawaii, up 75.3 percent from 45,148 during the same period a year earlier, according to the HTA. For all of 2010, the HTA is projecting 92,180 visitors, a 79.5 percent increase over 51,353 in 2009.
The HTA is projecting 115,225 Koreans will visit Hawaii this year, up 25 percent from its 2010 projection, and forecasts visitor spending from Korea to increase 38.2 percent this year to $230.2 million from a projected $166.6 million in 2010.
Dennis Teranishi, CEO of Hawaiian Host Inc., said his company’s business will get a boost from the Hawaii-Seoul flight because Hawaiian will be serving Hawaiian Host chocolates with meals in both economy and first class. Hawaiian also serves Hawaiian Host chocolates on its flights to Tokyo’s Haneda International Airport.
"We’re also on Korean Airlines, but those are in-flight sales where they’re selling our chocolates on the airplane as gifts," he said.
Austin Kang, president of Coral Creek Golf Course in Ewa Beach, said he’s ready for an influx of Korean visitors and has a Korean brochure and website ready as well as Korean staff that can take phone calls.
"The numbers show how many people are coming from Korea, and they’re spending," Kang said. "The only market booming right now is the Korean market and it’s increasing more than 50 percent a year. So we’re expecting many people to come to Hawaii and help our state."
Ingram, the CFO, said Hawaiian likely will announce another flight to Asia, most likely to Japan, later this year. Hawaiian began flying to Haneda in November after winning one of four slots that were awarded to U.S. carriers.
"We do see some other options and some alternatives for growth in Japan," he said. "We think there are some very viable alternatives and we would like to be announcing something in the next several months and hopefully be flying that route before the end of 2011. Obviously, flying to Tokyo is one alternative, but there are other places in Japan that would like our service."