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HTA plans tourism push

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The Hawaii Tourism Authority will mount a $3-million-plus recovery plan to offset substantial losses related to the tsunami and earthquake in Japan and the radiation scare.

Fewer Japanese tourists are walking Hawaii’s streets and shops or sunning themselves on the beaches since a powerful magnitude-9.0 earthquake struck the northeast coast of Japan on March 11, triggering a tsunami and damaging nuclear power plants in Fukushima. Hawaii also has seen booking slowdowns from its top U.S. traveler market as radiation fears have increased. And there has been a related drop in travel from China and Korea, markets that depend on connecting flights in Japan.

"This has impacted all our markets," said David Uchiyama, HTA vice president of brand management. "We’re projecting that we’ll be down about 154,000 arrivals from January to June."

The recovery plan, which was approved by the HTA board yesterday, will address the slowdown from all major inbound travel markets, Uchiyama said. Efforts will be concentrated on driving new business from North America, Oceania, Korea and China, and shoring up the hardest-hit Japan market, he said.

"Basically, we are trying to stabilize the markets, offset Japan’s spending shortfall and still achieve the $12.07 billion in spending that we projected for 2011," Uchiyama said. "We will look at secondary cities and developing countries to fill the gap and re-enter Japan at an appropriate time."

Japan, Hawaii’s third-largest visitor market, has posted double-digit declines since the quake and the HTA expects that by June it will be down at least 21.7 percent from its targeted arrivals and spending. The drop-off translates into 130,811 fewer Japan arrivals and $210.14 million less in Japan spending than was previously anticipated.

With fewer tourists, Hawaii could see its tax revenue decline, adding to the $1 billion budget shortfall the state is facing.

When the time is right, HTA plans to launch a marketing campaign in Japan that will include returning a portion of the money visitors spend in Hawaii to Japan’s recovery efforts, Uchiyama said. HTA also will send a delegation to meet with its travel partners in Japan and will work at keeping scheduled group business or, if necessary, getting cancellations rescheduled, he said.

"We are seeing some cancellations as far away as September and October," said Kyoko Kimura, an HTA board member and managing director of the Hotel Wailea. "We thought market conditions were evolving, but now we are back to a crisis."

Honeymooners Kuniomi Oi and Mieko Takenaka, who were vacationing in Waikiki yesterday, said that although people from their city of Hiroshima are still traveling, many bridal schedules and travel plans in Japan have been postponed since the crisis.

"Flights have been canceled and it’s difficult to catch trains or drive in some parts of Japan," Takenaka said. "It’s difficult for many people to travel."

Others could be reluctant to travel, said Yasushi Hagihara, who had considered canceling a family trip to Oahu even though his family was virtually unaffected in Osaka.

"Osaka did not receive any damage," Hagihara said. "Everything goes on as usual, but people feel very depressed. We feel it’s not the right time to be enjoying ourselves."

While the initial drop in business from the U.S. market has already been recovering since President Barack Obama and the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission made statements to alleviate traveler fears, special marketing programs will be used to increase lift and recruit travelers from secondary cities like Portland, Ore., Dallas, San Diego, San Jose, Denver, Sacramento and Phoenix, said John Monahan, president and chief executive officer for the Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau.

"Part of our strategy is to chase additional lift from markets that have had high load factors," Monahan said. "This is similar to the strategy we deployed after the loss of Aloha Airlines and ATA."

The HTA also will work to increase lift from Australia and New Zealand, to secure direct charter flights from China, and to improve air access for visitors from China and Korea, said Uchiyama, who leaves today for the Routes Asia 2011 Conference, one of Asia’s key airline conferences, held this year in Incheon, South Korea.

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