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Boy band’s bringing show, show’s bringing business

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Two concerts at Ko Olina are generating millions by attracting thousands of tourists from Japan

The boys are back. Arashi, a five-member Japanese boy band that announced its formation in 1999 while sailing on a yacht off Honolulu, returns to Oahu this weekend to celebrate its 15th anniversary and play its first concert outside of Asia. Their two concerts at Ko Olina Resort in West Oahu on Friday and Saturday are expected to fill nearly every Oahu hotel and pump about $20.7 million into Hawaii’s economy.

Barbara Saito, vice president of Tom Moffatt Productions, said investor costs alone for the event will top $8 million, greatly surpassing the costs to bring legends like Michael Jackson and the Rolling Stones to Hawaii.

“They have spent more money and invested more in the event and built a larger stage and will be bringing more fan club members than any other act that’s been here,” Saito said. “This is very much an Arashi-style show with enough different kinds of technology to create a spectacle. The stage is so big that you can see it from Farrington Highway.”

Saito said the concerts’ 15,000 nightly attendance (which will be roughly half Japanese and half North American concertgoers) won’t come close to breaking the 36,000 concert attendance record set by Janet Jackson.

“Close to 15,000 fans from Japan are coming to see them perform. When it comes to Japan, it just doesn’t get any bigger than Arashi,” she said.

Hawaii Tourism Authority President and CEO Mike McCartney said the event, called Arashi Blast in Hawaii, is expected to help Hawaii’s No. 2 tourism market begin rocketing again.

“Japan is our largest international market, and it is also a mature market, so we are always looking at new and creative ways to stimulate interest in our destination,” McCartney said.

He added that the shows will also bring exposure to Hawaii’s entertainment segment, “which has tremendous growth potential for the state.”

Beefing up the entertainment sector holds promise for the HTA, which has been trying to increase arrivals from Japan since 1997, when the market peaked at 2.2 million. More recently, Japanese arrivals dropped to 1.2 million in 2011 after the earthquake and tsunami that devastated the country. In 2013 the HTA and the Japan Association of Travel Agents pledged to work to return Japanese arrivals to Hawaii to 2 million by 2016. If realized, this target would translate to an estimated $4 billion in annual visitor spending and $440 million in state tax revenue.

The devaluation of the yen, increased consumer taxes in Japan and higher airfares and hotel room prices in Hawaii have cast doubt on whether the agencies can achieve their goal. In August the HTA downgraded its 2014 year-end arrivals goal to 1.55 million from its earlier expectation of 1.62 million. Likewise, the agency set its year-end Japanese visitor spending goal at $2.45 billion, down from the earlier target of $2.74 billion.

But Japan travel sellers and other members of Hawaii’s visitor industry say this concert event could push the market in the right direction, especially if the $100 million in publicity surrounding it leads to similar opportunities.

Danny Ojiri, vice president of market development for Outrigger Enterprises Group, said Hawaii has gained immeasurable exposure in the promotion process prior to the event and will continue to benefit from the buzz created by various media, clips of celebrities enjoying Hawaii, and the marketing of the recorded performances.

THE CONCERT already has produced measureable results for Hawaii’s visitor industry and affiliated businesses. Masato Tezuka, president of JTB Hawaii Travel LLC, said the concert brought his company a huge year-over-year increase in September results.

“The total impact of this concert is quite high. In comparison to last September, we’ll get 112 percent more business. This September will be one of our best months as far as increases,” Tezuka said.

Indeed, Eric Takahata, managing director of Hawaii Tourism Japan, said Japanside demand for the event is so high that four airlines added 18 charter flights to bring fans, who will stay in Hawaii anywhere from three to seven days. According to Takahata, those roughly 15,000 Arashi fans from Japan are expected to buy more than 30,000 hotel room nights.

“Most of our hotels are sold out. If we had more hotel rooms, we could have easily attracted 40,000 or 50,000 visitors,” Takahata said, adding that there are only 43,500 hotel rooms statewide. Of those, he said, only 27,000 are on Oahu and only 22,600 are in Waikiki.

Barry Wallace, executive vice president of hospitality services for Outrigger Enterprises, said the kamaainaowned chain is sold out for the weekend in just about all its hotels in Waikiki and Ala Moana. “It’s really pretty substantial. It’s as big as the Honolulu Marathon, or at least it feels that way,” Wallace said, adding that the spike in business will bring the chain an extra 1,000 room sales from Japan.

Kelly Sanders, area managing director, Starwood Hotels & Resorts in Waikiki, also reported strong results.

“At Starwood’s Waikiki properties we are not only seeing a good pickup in business over the week of the concert with group bookings and package bookings through the Japanese wholesalers, but we are also seeing good business pickup after the concert,” Sanders said.

Interest from visitors and locals also is benefiting retail and other businesses. This month, hundreds of fans waited for hours at Shirokiya to buy band merchandise at a temporary store set up to sell goods for Arashi Blast in Hawaii. “About 1,000 to 1,500 people came through the store on the first day, and there was about a 21⁄ hour wait,” said Daisuke Mori, a manager representative for Shirokiya Inc.

Mori said Friday that he was bracing for a potential rush of business the following day when Shirokiya became an official ticket outlet for locals and visitors from the U.S. and Canada. Japanese visitors were restricted to buying their tickets back home to allow local fans a chance at a coveted ticket.

“We heard that Japan sold out of their allotment within hours,” Mori said. “So far, the traffic has mostly been from locals, but closer to the concert we expect to start seeing more tourists from Japan.”

The Arashi store, which sold $100,000 worth of merchandise on its first day, will stay open until Sept. 28 if supplies last. Mahya Lewis, a 17-year-old who moved from Japan to Hawaii six years ago, was determined to do her part.

“I’ve been a fan for about 10 years, but I’ve never got to see them perform. It’s impossible to get tickets in Japan; everybody knows them and everybody wants to see them. Now I feel like they are coming here just to perform for me. It’s like destiny,” said Lewis, who plans to attend the concert with her mother and sister.

CHELSIE MATSUOKA, a 23-year-old Kailua resident, found an Arashi hoodie and logo bag at Shirokiya to wear to the concert that she’s been dreaming about attending since junior high. “I’m like so excited. I can’t even contain myself,” she said. “I studied Japanese for them. Now they are here, and I’m going to take a day off from work to go see them. It’s too hard to get tickets in Japan, so I figure that this is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”

It won’t be if Takahata has anything to do with it.

“We’ve had such great demand that we’re already trying to bring Arashi back for their 20th anniversary. It would be in 2019, a year before the Tokyo Olympics,” he said. “In the interim we are negotiating with a few other major Japanese groups. We hope to bring at least one smaller group a year and a large group like this every other year.”

Bringing more entertainment groups along with recruiting a low-cost carrier to begin service between Hawaii and Japan and reopening the international port of entry at Kona Airport could bring Hawaii closer to its Japan goals, Takahata said. “There’s still hope. We could hit that 2 million,” he said.

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