HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) — Inauguration day is still 24 days away, but Governor-elect Josh Green is already meeting with government officials and travel industry leaders in Japan to promote Hawaii’s tourism industry.
“Japan is an important international partner with deep ties to the islands and we look forward to strengthening our ties,” Green said.
After two years of lockdowns, Japan fully reopened on October 11. And experts say now is the time to promote tourism in Hawaii.
“I think the most important thing is to say, ‘hey, we’d like you to come back. It’s time.’ So I think that’s a really good message,” said Keith Vieira, a longtime hospitality industry executive and director of KV & Associates.
At present, the annual number of Japanese visitors is less than 10% of the pre-boom years. Japanese tourists are critical to improving Hawaii’s economy because they outspend mainland tourists.
But the recovery of the Japanese market will not happen overnight. The Japanese yen exchange rate is high against the dollar, which makes it more expensive to travel here.
Airlines in Japan also added hefty fuel surcharges that increased fares by hundreds of dollars.
“(Costs) have probably more than doubled from what they were before the pandemic and that’s a challenge,” Vieira said.
Some experts say Japan’s market rebound will be gradual, returning to about half of pre-pandemic levels by next year.
“It will be a while before the Japanese come back, we don’t even think next year could be 2024, that we really see this resurgence of Japanese people coming back,” said Ryan Tanaka of the Hawaii Restaurant Association.
But given that the mainland market has been so strong now, even a gradual rebound in Japanese arrivals will help revive the local economy and boost many small businesses and restaurants in Waikiki.
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