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Wednesday, July 19, 2000

hurt Japan tourists,
JTB official says

The unavailability of hotel rooms
for the group also harms isle
retailers who rely on
their business

By Russ Lynch


Big conventions attracting thousands of high-spending professionals to Hawaii sometimes bring serious harm to another significant part of the state's tourism market, the Japanese who pour money into Oahu's luxury hotels and shops, one expert says.

JTB When meetings such as the American Dental Association convention that brought about 30,000 people here in October block up hotel rooms, the Japanese can't get the rooms they want, Takashi Kitamura, president of JTB Hawaii Inc., said yesterday.

"It has affected our business very much," Kitamura said after a media luncheon at the Halekulani hotel yesterday.

High-end retailers who cater almost exclusively to the Japanese also do very little business when conventions bump Japanese travelers, Kitamura said.

The argument has some truth to it, said Bob Fishman, chief executive of the Hawaii Tourism Authority, and it was raised decades ago when the idea of building a convention center to attract a more-affluent level of tourists was first discussed, he said.

But blocking some Japanese out of rooms also has to be recognized as an unfortunate side effect of an overall drive that is good for Hawaii tourism, he said.

The HTA and the Hawaii Visitors & Convention Bureau, which is responsible for long-term convention bookings, have long held to a policy of minimizing the adverse impact by encouraging conventions to book in off-peak periods.

"There is some validity to their frustration about major citywide conventions that don't include Japanese at all," Fishman said in an interview after Kitamura made his comments. "It's one of the prices we've agreed to pay in order to diversify what has been purely a leisure market," he said.

Kitamura said conventions can have a positive side for the Japanese tourist business too, if they bring in Japanese, as the meeting of Lions Clubs International did in June.

But the Japanese market is also suffering from another trend that is cutting hotel room availability -- that is the increasing conversion of hotel rooms to time-share units, he said.

The Japanese have not yet embraced the time-share concept and every room that becomes a time-share unit is one less room available to them, Kitamura said.

Japan Travel Bureau Inc., the biggest travel company in Japan, is predicting a 4.7 percent decline in summer travel to Hawaii from Japan this year, said Kitamura, who has headed up the Hawaii subsidiary for a year.

He said JTB, which surveyed bookings at 200 of its 300-plus sales offices in Japan, expects 342,000 Japanese to travel to Hawaii in July and August, compared with 359,000 in those two months last year.

He does not blame conventions or timeshares for that, but said a number of factors are inhibiting Japanese travel to Hawaii despite the fact that the islands remain the most-desired destination among the Japanese.

A big reason is the reduced availability of airline seats from Tokyo's main airport, Narita.

Citing Continental Airlines' temporary pullout from the Japan market, United's cutback to one Honolulu flight a day from Narita instead of two and a change in schedules by Northwest Airlines, Kitamura said that seats out of Narita this year are running are at only 72.8 percent of their 1997 level.

The biggest factor is the lack of available landing and takeoff opportunities at Narita because increased travel to low-cost destinations such as South Korea and Thailand have used up those slots, he said.

Japan Airlines has not cut its regular frequency to Hawaii but now finds it cannot get the slots for extra flights when there is a surge in demand, he said.

The state has been working with the Japanese in support of opening up Tokyo's domestic airport, Haneda, to international flights as one solution, Fishman said.

On the positive side, Kitamura said demand in Japan for travel to Hawaii remains strong and he hopes that by the end of this year, traffic will be at least level with last year's and maybe stronger.

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