Slow and gradual rebound in Japanese tourists expected

Slow and gradual rebound in Japanese tourists expected

Hawaiians from Japan, who had been predicted to rebound more quickly from the COVID-19 pandemic, are now not expected to return to their pre-2019 pandemic levels until late next year.

Eric Takahata, managing director of Hawaii Tourism Japan, told the Honolulu Star Advertiser that in the first and second quarters of this year, Japanese arrivals are expected to return to about 30% of pre-pandemic numbers and are expected to take until the third or fourth quarter of this year. 40% or 50% of the number of visitors by 2019.

“It’s going to be a slow, incremental build; it’s not going to be fast,” Takahata said. “To get back to 1.4 million to 1.5 million (arrivals) in 2019, I think that will take the whole of (2024) as well.”

Japanese tour sellers and marketers told the Star-Advertiser this week that there is a lag in the Japanese tourist market returning to Hawaii for a variety of reasons, including fuel surcharges and unfavorable exchange rates. That has been exacerbated by U.S. inflation and strong domestic demand in Hawaii, which has limited inventory in the tourist industry and pushed up airline and hotel prices. The Japanese government’s decision to offer incentives to stimulate domestic travel, and a late start to lift COVID-19 restrictions, also didn’t help.

Most tour sellers and marketers specializing in the Japanese tourist market to Hawaii are far less optimistic now than they were in spring 2022, when a delegation from the Japan Association of Travel Agents visited Hawaii and predicted an accelerated recovery.

JATA Chairman Hiroyuki Takahashi said he expects Japanese tourists to return to Hawaii in 2022 at 40% of the pre-pandemic 2019 level, or more than 1.54 million visitors. Takahashi had expected arrivals to return to 2019 levels by this year, or even exceed 2019 levels. But his predictions, as well as those of economists and other travel watchers, have proven overly optimistic.

During previous travel disruptions, such as 9/11, the SARS outbreak in 2002-03, the Lehman Brothers financial crisis in 2008, and even the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami in 2011, visitor numbers from Japan rebounded quickly, Takahata said. .

“The next few quarters, it’s back to around 90 percent. But we’ve never had a two-year gap with the world stopping in their lives. I think people underestimate a lot,” he said.

For Japan, a notoriously cautious country, getting rid of COVID-19 will undoubtedly be a long process.

Dave Erdman, president of marketing at PacRim and CEO of Hawaii and Tokyo, said, “The Japanese are still seeing COVID cases in the news and may still be apprehensive about foreign travel in general and have delayed bookings. That’s probably why we’re still seeing so many people continue to wear masks, not just out of obligation, not because of spring hay fever, but more out of fear of contracting COVID.”

It was not until March that the Japanese government lifted the mandatory wearing of masks.

Japan lifted its coronavirus border controls on April 29, including requiring entrants to show proof of a three-shot vaccination or a negative pre-departure test, the start of the popular Golden Week travel period.

It wasn’t until May 8 that the Japanese government lowered its COVID-19 threat level from 2 to 5, putting the coronavirus on a par with the flu.

Jean Dickinson, chief integrated marketing officer at PacRim Marketing, said: “Keep in mind that the beginning of the year is the peak time for booked travel. As a result, many Japanese tourists have made other plans for 2023 because they do not think international travel is practical.”

Sayuri Kimura, executive vice president of marketing at PacRim, said preliminary data from the Immigration Bureau showed that the number of overseas tourists in Japan in March 2023 was 694,293, an increase of 982.33% from March 2022 and a decrease of 64% from 2019.

“Looking at the number of people departing by country and their growth rates in the research data, regions that are less affected by exchange rates or that are less costly compared to the U.S. dollar are showing significant growth,” Kimura said. “Therefore, it is possible to reduce Areas with a long stay and relatively close distances are currently popular, as fuel surcharges due to high oil prices are also a major factor.”

Tetsuya “Ted” Kubo, president and CEO of JTB Hawaii, said Hawaii remains the most popular destination for Japanese tourists. However, Kubo said: “More affordable short-haul destinations such as South Korea and Taiwan have experienced a faster rebound.”

“Tourism prices are up 50% or more compared to pre-pandemic,” he said. “That’s a big factor in the pace of recovery in terms of attracting repeat visitors to Hawaii.”

Takahata said bookings in Europe outpaced Hawaii, mainly because of higher fees in Hawaii.

“A five-night trip to Italy is cheaper than a four-night trip to Hawaii,” he said, adding that other destinations such as Australia, Southeast Asia and Guam are also aggressively marketed to Japanese tourists.

However, since the Japanese government lifted COVID-related border restrictions on May 8, the total number of passengers traveling from Japan to Hawaii has been increasing, Kubo said.

“Arriving flights from Japan in the first 15 days of June averaged about 2,300 daily passengers, compared with 1,600 in the first half of May,” Kubo said.

He added: “JTB last-minute bookings have increased this summer, as well as bookings for the peak autumn travel season, but it is still unknown when exactly the pace will pick up as everyone expects.”

Air freight between Japan and Hawaii is currently down 48% from 2019 levels, and July, August and September — Japan’s traditional summer travel periods — are expected to increase, Takahata said. The Obon festival, a popular Buddhist tradition in mid-August where people worship the spirits of their ancestors, is also expected to boost footfall during the peak summer season.

“We have intelligence that all carriers are looking to increase their resupply in the summer,” he said. “Their load factor (occupancy rate) was not high, about 55 percent, but in July, August and September, it was 80 percent.”

Takahata said that from mid-July, Japan Airlines will offer three weekly seasonal flights between Narita and Kona, Japan.

In another positive sign, Takahata said 5,000 Japanese runners had signed up for the Honolulu Marathon in December. Takahata said he hopes to at least double that number by the end of the year. This will bring the number closer to the 16,000 entrants from Japan in 2019.

There are also signs that the meetings, incentives, conventions and exhibitions business is returning to Hawaii, with thousands of large events planned for the fall, he said.

The timing of the market’s full recovery may depend on its affordability, Kubo said.

“It will be challenging to increase the number of Japanese tourists to pre-pandemic levels while the cost of travel to Hawaii remains high,” he said. “As (a recent Department of Commerce, Economic Development and Tourism) survey) suggest that Hawaii may be losing its appeal to repeat visitors from the continental US and Canadian markets, which are recovering faster than other source markets. With the Japanese market recovering, we don’t want to see that happen. ”

Kimura said it was difficult to predict when the Japanese market would recover, although it could show signs of recovery as the yen strengthens and fuel surcharges fade, easing the feeling of “overvaluation”.

“According to the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, the number of passport applications in Tokyo has been declining, but preliminary data for April shows that the number of applications is about 55,000, which is close to the level before the new crown virus disaster. This may be a It’s a good trend, and people’s awareness of outbound travel is gradually being raised.”

Edman said he was encouraged by seeing travel agencies and airlines aggressively promoting and selling Hawaiian packages.

Kimura said that since April 1, the Japan Association of Travel Agents has launched a one-year “JATA Overseas Tourism Promotion Plan” aimed at stimulating demand for overseas tourism.

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