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Golden Week sees slow but steady return of Japanese visitors to Hawaii

Hawaii businesses are still waiting for the full return of Japanese visitors, one Hawaii’s most valuable tourism markets.

Japan celebrates four national holidays from April 29 to May 6, making it the longest vacation of the year for many Japanese workers and historically, a lucrative week for Hawaii businesses.

While that hasn’t been the case during the pandemic, some shop owners hope this Golden Week will be better.

“The number of the Japanese tourists is increasing. Yeah, it’s really different than like last month,” said Mild Makoto Hasegawa, vice president and chief operating officer of Zetton Inc., which operates restaurants like Camado Ramen Tavern in Waikiki.

This year, fewer than half the direct flights from Japan are operating compared to 2019.

But tourism officials note travelers are filling those seats.

“For that one week, the average load factor for all the carriers that fly direct flights from Japan to Hawaii, is right around the 70% range, 70 75% range, and depending on the carrier, some carriers are flying 100%,” said Eric Takahata, managing director of Hawaii Tourism Japan.

Not a gold rush ― but a gold bump.

It’s encouraging news after three years of lackluster visitor numbers from Japan due to COVID restrictions, a weak yen, inflation and high fuel surcharges on flights.

The Japanese government has also been urging its citizens to spend money at home to boost its own economic recovery, even subsidizing domestic travel.

Takahata says that’s changing.

“The Ministry of Tourism in Japan have now focused their attention to outbound travel,” he said.

“They know how important it is for companies that have business here in Hawaii and depend on that business, the Japanese businesses to come back.”

But it’s a slow process. While restrictions have been lifted, the conservative Japanese aren’t rushing back.

“Hawaii just simply got too expensive for Japanese, Hawaii lovers,” said entrepreneur Koichi Hozumi, owner of Anela Marketing Group, which works with Hawaii businesses to bring their products to Asia.

“The mindset is everything is expensive. This is not the time to spend. Let’s wait.”

Hozumi says more Hawaiian-themed festivals and events are taking place across Japan, creating opportunities for businesses like Hawaiian Paradise Coffee in Kapolei, one of Koichi’s clients.

“We shouldn’t just be waiting for Japanese to come back. We rather go to them to deliver the Hawaii experience while they are still in Japan,” he said.

A strategy that’s meant to hedge the risk of further delays — as Japan grapples with a reduced tourism workforce and rising geopolitical tensions involving China.

“When that kind of stuff goes on, I think globally, I think it does put a damper on stuff like travel, people feel unsafe,” Takahata said,

Still, optimism remains.

“Sony life insurance and Prudential, all these life insurance companies are starting to inquire about booking their big, large incentive groups, again, to come to Hawaii,” he said, noting those would be groups up to 10,000 people.

“We hope that the summer offers not quite 100% relief in 2019, but way more than we’ve seen.”

Source: Hawaii News Now