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Hawaiʻi Island records more than its usual share of Japanese visitors

Passengers on Japan Airlines flight 177 arrive at Ellison Onizuka Kona International Airport on Tuesday, Aug. 2, 2022.
Erin Khan/Hawaiʻi Tourism Authority
Passengers on Japan Airlines flight 177 arrive at Ellison Onizuka Kona International Airport on Tuesday, Aug. 2, 2022.

Hawaiʻi Island is seeing more than its usual share of visitors from Japan, according to new figures from the Island of Hawaiʻi Visitors Bureau — although the overall numbers remain low.

Ross Birch, head of the bureau, says the Big Island is currently receiving about 1,000 Japanese visitors a day. That equates to 20% of Japanese visitors arriving in Hawaiʻi. The island usually sees 10% of total statewide arrivals.

Birch says numbers from Japan remain far short of what they were prior to the pandemic, but he’s hopeful about the future. It comes as the domestic market is softening.

"We've almost made up almost the entire gap of what we lost in our international with the U.S. market. And now that we're seeing a little bit of that softening coming in, that's our excitement of the direct flights coming from Japan," he said.

Flights from Japan touched down at Kona airport two weeks ago, marking the resumption of the international visitor market since the pandemic shutdown.

"So we'll be able to then start to see our international numbers creep back up again, very slowly, as we're anticipating. And Japan has been informing us that it's going to be kind of a slow road with their outbound visitation for quite a while yet, at least through the end of the year," Birch told HPR.

Birch says his organization is also working on a new Destination Management Action Plan. He anticipates it will include ways to get products from local vendors to visitors as well as strategies for managing tourist hotspots on the island.

"Hawaiʻi Tourism Authority, through their efforts in the Destination Management Action Plan, have put in a pilot program for the Pololū stewardship, which is a great way to get the community involved," Birch said. "Next steps in that is to now use Nā Ala Hele and the DLNR for hopefully a reservation system, potentially, so that you can monitor even more and then looking at parking."

Community meetings are expected to be scheduled in the next month or two.

This interview aired on The Conversation on Aug. 17, 2022. The Conversation airs weekdays at 11 a.m. on HPR-1.

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.
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