Tourism industry hopes governor’s message to vaccinated visitors will bring back Japanese tourists

Published: Oct. 19, 2021 at 10:30 PM HST|Updated: Oct. 20, 2021 at 10:03 AM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Before the pandemic, Japanese visitors made up nearly 13% of Hawaii’s visitor spending.

Although Hawaii’s rules haven’t changed at all, tourism experts say Gov. David Ige’s invitation for nonessential travel sends a powerful message.

“Especially the Japanese who are extra sensitive to messaging so I think it’s a very important step,” said Keith Vieira, principal of KV and Associates. “And I think this will help put pressure on the Japanese government because the travelers want to come to Hawaii. It means a lot.”

“We don’t need millions and millions of tourists, we need less tourists that are higher spending. And if you make it the safest place, you can demand that number,” said Professor Jerry Agrusa at UH Manoa’s School of Travel Industry Management.

Currently, anyone flying into Japan is required to quarantine for 10 days including vaccinated residents.

Vieira said it could be months before that rule is lifted.

“Our conversations with Japan travel operators and the airlines is they hope that gets done toward the end of the year, so they are able to start marketing Hawaii in the first quarter,” said Vieira.

Agrusa said in 2019, 1.6 million Japanese visitors came to the islands, compared to about 540,000 Canadians.

During the pandemic, only about 2,000 Japanese visited each month.

Agrusa added Canadian travelers spend about $165 a day in Hawaii while Japanese travelers spend about $265 a day.

“The Japanese stay the shortest, and they do the most when they’re here,” said Vieira. “So, you have naturally retail, restaurants — they typically buy a big seafood tower and a steak.”

Hawaii’s wedding industry is also looking forward to the return of international travelers.

Julie Aragaki, a partner with The Best Hawaii Wedding, said one Japanese company went from averaging 2400 weddings a year to 10.

“Many of those companies also have properties that are exclusive to them, and so they were like footing the bill for you know the rent or mortgage. Now that that’s coming back, it’s going to be huge for them,” said Aragaki.

“Internationally, they have to take a COVID test to come, and I think we should continue that,” said Agrusa. “I think there’s nothing wrong with being extra safe.”

The state said they are seeking information from the federal government about its plans for international travel and will have a plan in place prior to Nov. 8.

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