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New international travel rules could bring slight bump in Japanese visitors to Hawaiʻi

A passenger arrives from overseas at the arrival hall of Haneda International Airport in Tokyo, Monday, Nov. 8, 2021. (AP Photo/Koji Sasahara)
Koji Sasahara/AP
A passenger arrives from overseas at the arrival hall of Haneda International Airport in Tokyo, Monday, Nov. 8, 2021. (AP Photo/Koji Sasahara)

New COVID-19 rules for international travel kicked in across the country on Monday, opening the borders to fully vaccinated visitors with negative tests.

Airlines are expecting more travelers from Europe and elsewhere. But in Hawaiʻi, Japanese travelers typically make up the largest source of international visitors.

In 2019 there were just over 1.5 million arrivals from Japan, according to Hawaiʻi Tourism Japan, the Japanese marketing arm of the Hawaiʻi Tourism Authority. In the first nine months of 2021, there were 15,040 total arrivals.

Hawaiʻi officials recently revised the Safe Travels program to match federal travel guidelines. Japan also began Monday relaxing restrictions on business travel and students coming in and out of the country.

Eric Takahata, who handles the Japanese market for the HTA, said the forecasts point to a slight bump in Japanese arrivals heading into the year-end.

"The Japanese carriers, as well as Hawaiian Airlines, all are slowly starting to increase flights into December, roll us into January. So those are all good signs," Takahata said. "The airlines increasing flights also tells us that the market is showing the demand."

There are currently 50 to 55 daily flights from Japan and airlines expect to add about 20 flights starting in December, he said. Japanese carriers said it takes them about two weeks to add a flight back to the schedule.

Takahata said Japanese travelers view Hawaiʻi as a safe destination in terms of the pandemic.

"Prior to Nov. 8, coming into Hawaiʻi from Japan, (the rules) specified a PCR test. But now, you could come in with even an antigen test which lowers the cost tremendously for the Japanese visitor to come into Hawaiʻi," he said.

Takahata said Japanese visitors are higher spenders.

"Wrapping up into Q2 of 2022, we hope to get some kind of significant numbers. And when I say significant, I mean recovering hopefully about 60%, 70% of what we had pre-pandemic from Japan. That's what we anticipate and that's what the industry is telling us it's going to look like," Takahata said.

This interview aired on The Conversation on Nov. 8, 2021.

Catherine Cruz is the host of The Conversation. Originally from Guam, she spent more than 30 years at KITV, covering beats from government to education. Contact her at ccruz@hawaiipublicradio.org.
Sophia McCullough is a digital news producer. Contact her at news@hawaiipublicradio.org.
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