Saturday, June 5, 2004

Hawaii, Japan employ
similar pitches

Although the pickup line is a little different, tourism officials in Hawaii and Japan have found when it comes to wooing visitors, the seduction is the same.

Both destinations have launched extensive marketing campaigns designed to lure visitors away from other potential suitors with the promise of diversity and value.

A shift in demographics and desires has changed the way Hawaii and Japan tourism experts must market their destination and how businesses -- ranging from accommodation providers to tour operators, attraction managers and retailers -- advertise their products. And while it's too early to tell if Hawaii and Japan have found a silver-tongued approach, visitor industry professionals have said preliminary indications suggest their markets are rebounding.

Japanese travel professionals and government leaders visited Hawaii yesterday to explain their new tourism campaign Yokoso! Japan to the state's visitor industry. The Japanese government launched the campaign last year to correct an imbalance between the country's inbound and outbound visitor markets. While the country hosted 5.2 million visitors in 2003, nearly 13.3 million people left the country to visit other destinations.

"We are trying to make Japan a more attractive place for foreign visitors to come," said Eiichi Ito, director of the Visit Japan Campaign Project. "One day we hope Yokoso will be as easily recognized as your aloha."

Japan hopes to nearly double its number of inbound tourists to 10 million by 2010 by using the Yokoso campaign to reach out to a younger, broader range of tourists. Yokoso, which means welcome, encourages visitors to Japan to discover the secrets and surprises of a beautiful land filled with modern skyscrapers, ancient shrines and serene gardens, Ito said.

Hawaii, which is still struggling to recover its Japan tourism market after it bottomed out following the September 2001 terrorist attacks, the War on Terror and SARS, has sent a similar message back to Asia. Since January, the face of Hawaii-based ukulele virtuoso Jake Shimabukuro, the spokesman for the state's newly-launched "six islands, six surprises," marketing campaign in Japan has peered out of posters in Japan's subway stations, glossy magazine pages and appeared on the top TV stations.

The campaign, run by Dentsu Inc., Japan's largest advertising agency, is meant to tell Japanese visitors that there's more to do here than shop and lie on the beach, said Takashi Ichikura, executive director of Hawaii Tourism Japan.

Like Japan's Yokoso campaign, Hawaii's appeal is also designed to reach a broader range of tourists who are more interested in diversity and value than their predecessors.

The visibility of office ladies in their designer fashions and Japanese businessmen in suits has been diluted by an ever-growing segment of silver-haired baby boomers, honeymooners and multi-generational family groups on holiday, said Kiyoko Tanji, general manager of Hawaii Tourism Japan.

It's too early to tell if the state's marketing effort to increase arrivals from Japan is working, but judging from the rebound in numbers, it could not have hurt, said Gilbert Kimura, spokesman for Japan Airlines.

Hawaii's visitor industry experienced a big rebound in Golden Week travelers and an equally strong showing is expected during Obon, the traditional Japanese summer travel period, Kimura said.

Arrivals from Japan were flat in January and February, but picked up 116 percent in March, 155 percent in April and rose 217 percent during Golden Week, according to numbers released by JAL, Kimura said.

Outbound traffic from Hawaii to Japan has also picked up, said Jack Tsui, general manager of Panda Travel, one of the state's largest wholesalers.

Since May, when Panda Travel began promoting the diversity and value outlined in Yokoso, the company has sold Hawaii travelers 170 tour packages to Japan, Tsui said.

"We've seen a big increase in business," Tsui said.


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