Friday, February 19, 1999

Experts: Isles need
better marketing
to Japanese

Japan Travel Bureau says
Hawaii must work harder
to stand out in a
competitive market

By Russ Lynch


Battered by recession at home, Japanese travelers have become more cautious so Hawaii must work harder to stand out in an increasingly competitive market, industry experts say.

The Japanese are reluctant to spend money and are being assaulted with marketing from closer, cheaper destinations, such as Guam, experts told a daylong seminar on Japanese tourism sponsored by the Japan-Hawaii Economic Council, the Chamber of Commerce of Hawaii and the Pacific Asia Travel Association.

"Among our greatest worries right now is that younger travelers, particularly working women, aren't traveling as often as they did," said Yoshio Koteda, general manager of international relations in the overseas travel department of Japan's biggest travel agency, Japan Travel Bureau. "They still have the desire and enough money, but they've started to concern themselves about disposable income and future job security."

Still, speakers at the Hilton Hawaiian Village meeting noted that Hawaii is still the preferred destination of most Japanese travelers.

"You have a good reputation for service, food and hotels," said Shinzo Suto, senior managing director of passenger marketing at Japan Airlines Inc. "There is little for Japanese travelers to complain about and, believe me, they can be very demanding," he said.

Info Box One needed change, though, is improving Honolulu Airport's international arrivals section, said Suto, whose airline flies 69 flights a week to Honolulu and seven a week to Kona.

"From an infrastructural point of view, the immigration and baggage areas at Honolulu Airport are rather constricted."

Suto said JAL's Hawaii business in the fiscal year through March 1999 will be up 4 percent over the previous year, which was up 4 percent from the year before that.

JAL heavily promotes Hawaii spending the equivalent of $9 million in marketing, he said.

JAL and the Hawaii Visitors & Convention Bureau are running a joint newspaper advertising campaign this month that will reach 5.2 million readers in the Tokyo area at a cost of about $350,000.

The HVCB separately announced a $10.4 million promotional campaign for this year in Japan.

Osamu Kawabata, director of sales and strategy planning at competitor All Nippon Airways Inc., said Hawaii's challenge is to get people in Japan to spend money on travel. "It is not a simple fact of people not having money any more, but more an issue of not wanting to spend it," he said.

The number of Japanese tourists coming to Hawaii slipped under the 2 million mark last year, a decline of 6.3 percent from 1997, according to the HVCB. The bureau estimates that the decline translates into a loss of $100 million in visitor spending in Hawaii.

Still there are positive signs and some avenues that can be pursued by clever and detailed marketing, Koteda said.

The Japanese government is pushing for longer holidays by shifting a number of national holidays so they will fall on Mondays.

Also, there is a huge and growing market among the elderly. There are an estimated 20 million people in Japan now over 65, about one in six, and by 2015 the number is expected to grow to one in four, Koteda said. Due to Japan's strong savings habits, they have nice nest eggs and want to spend some on travel.

Aaron Medina, president of Hertz Asia Pacific (Japan) Ltd., said the big increase in "free individual travel," where travelers make all their own arrangements, presents a challenge because travel agents in Japan often aren't willing to make the effort to satisfy the individual needs of this demanding market.

Travel-agent education is vital, the car rental executive said.

Hawaii, with its multi-island experience and well-developed tourism infrastructure, is far superior to Guam in Hawaii people's minds, Medina said.

"But you must put yourself in the shoes of today's potential Japanese traveler. On paper, what does Hawaii have that Guam does not? Beaches, water sports, duty free, the Hard Rock Cafe, Japanese-speaking hotel and restaurant staffs, great weather, relaxation? Guam has got all of this," he said.

"Add to this the fact that Japanese can travel to Guam in half the time and for significantly less cost. Now ask yourself, where do you think the Japanese will go in these tough economic times?"

He said it is going to take strong marketing -- even making direct references of how Hawaii is better than specific other destinations -- to conquer this competitive threat.

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