Japan Tourists Shun Hawaii as Golden Week Travel Falls on Quake

Hawaii Tourists
Tourists enjoy sunbathing, surfing, boating and swimming at Waikiki beach in Honolulu, Hawaii, on January 1, 2010. Photographer: Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images

Machiko Takemura, a housewife in Kawasaki City, near Tokyo, booked a Golden Week holiday to Hawaii on March 11, hours before an earthquake rocked Japan.

“When we saw the full effects of the disaster, we canceled it,” said Takemura, 30, who planned to visit the U.S. state with her husband and baby son during Golden Week, a run of four Japanese holidays in a week, beginning tomorrow. “The future seemed very uncertain.”

Japanese tourists, who account for about 20 percent of Hawaii’s visitors, have pared overseas trips since the magnitude-9 quake hitting bookings for Hilton Worldwide Inc. and Starwood Hotels & Resorts World Inc. and forcing Japan Airlines Co. and All Nippon Airways Co. to cut flights. Hawaii’s visitor numbers from Japan have slumped 28 percent this month, according to the state tourism agency.

“The pace of overall bookings slowed dramatically immediately after the earthquake,” said Dave Erdman, chief executive officer of PacRim Marketing Group Inc., which runs Japanese-language websites for Hawaii hotels. “We basically lost a full month of bookings.”

The temblor and a subsequent tsunami left about 26,000 people dead or missing, according to the National Police Agency of Japan. The quake also crippled a nuclear power station, about 220 kilometers (140 miles) north of Tokyo, causing radiation leaks and power shortages in the Japanese capital.

Hilton, Starwood

The Hilton Hawaiian Village Beach Resort & Spa, the state’s largest hotel, has had a decline in Golden Week bookings of as much as 30 percent from last year, said Jerry Gibson, area vice president of Hilton Hawaii. A pick-up in domestic bookings has offset some of this decline, ensuring that the hotel doesn’t need to shed staff, he said.

Starwood’s hotels in Waikiki, Hawaii’s main tourist hub, have seen a 5 percent drop in bookings from Japan, said Keith Vieira, the chain’s senior vice president and director of operations for Hawaii and French Polynesia. The hotels get about 40 percent of business from the Asian nation, he said.

“Golden Week has definitely slowed the overall rebound that we had expected,” he said.

Japan Air, ANA

Japan Air, the nation’s flag carrier, pared flights to Hawaii following the quake as part of wider cuts that also included reductions in services to China and South Korea. The carrier reported a 33 percent decline in international Golden Week bookings, the biggest drop in at least six years.

“Golden Week travel to Hawaii will definitely be down from last year,” said Winston Lee, the carrier’s director of sales and public relations for the Hawaii region. The airline’s holiday bookings have also fallen as it slashed capacity across its network during a reorganization in bankruptcy protection.

ANA, Japan’s largest listed carrier, said yesterday that the quake had caused a 19 billion yen drop in sales. The airline has posted a 9 percent increase in international bookings during Golden Week as it won travelers from JAL. The carrier also said that Japanese holidaymakers and business travelers are beginning to resume plans for overseas trips.

“Demand for international flights is starting to rebound,” said President Shinichiro Ito. “We’re working hard to encourage people to break out of the self-restraint mode and go on holiday.”

JAL Restores Flights

Japan Air is also restoring some of the flights cut after the quake, as travel demand begins to rebound. That will include adding back a daily service from Tokyo’s Narita Airport to Hawaii from April 25 to May 9, Lee said. The carrier is also flying nine additional Hawaii flights for Golden Week, he said.

Hawaii’s decline in Golden Week visitors from Japan isn’t as bad as initially expected following the quake and tsunami, said Mike McCartney, the head of the Hawaii Tourism Authority. Tour groups are also making bookings for later in the year and business travel is picking up, he said.

Takemura, who canceled her Golden Week trip to Hawaii, last weekend booked a trip for late June because she is now less concerned about aftershocks following the March 11 earthquake.

“The situation is getting better and better,” she said.

A pick-up in confidence and cheaper hotel rooms are spurring last-minute bookings for Golden Week trips overseas, including to Hawaii, said Tatsuki Miura, a spokesman for H.I.S. Co., Japan’s largest listed travel agency.

“There has been a rush this week,” he said. “One of the reasons is probably lower prices.”

Summer Recovery

PacRim Marketing has seen an increase in activity on its hotel websites in the run-up to Golden Week and is expecting a recovery in demand into the summer, said Erdman.

The demand rebound may be quicker than after the Kobe earthquake in 1995, which caused a six-month slowdown for Starwood’s Hawaii properties, said Vieira. The company is now anticipating a pick-up from as early as July, he said.

Power shortages in Tokyo, and reductions in air-conditioning, may also prompt Japanese travelers to head overseas as the weather gets hotter during the summer, said Hilton Hawaii’s Gibson.

Aston Hotels & Resorts LLC, the operator of more than 20 hotels and condominium resorts in Hawaii, has also seen the start of a rebound, said Senior Vice President Shari Chang.

“Japan business is not to where we want, but if it continues to see gains we should be in a good situation by summer,” said Chang.

Kiyotaka Matsuda in Tokyo at kmatsuda@bloomberg.net

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