'Golden Week' holiday arrivals fall in Hawaii
The Japanese are getting squeezed out of hotel rooms in the islands
More Japanese are traveling during this year's Golden Week holidays, but reports on bookings show that they aren't necessarily choosing to come to Hawaii, where the challenges of hotel accommodations and prices could be prohibitive.
This year's Golden Week, which runs from April 26 to this Saturday, has long been a popular travel period for the Japan market because it allows would-be travelers to capitalize on precious vacation time. But an increase in Hawaii's hotel room prices, fuel surcharges and departure taxes as well as difficulty getting air seats and hotel rooms has begun to dampen that trend.
"The Japanese are getting more price conscious and they are avoiding traveling during peak periods," said Gilbert Kimura, spokesman forJapan Airlines, which has reported an 11.6 percent decline in Golden Week traffic to Hawaii for 2006.
Rising fuel surcharges and airport departure taxes, which are running about $205 per person, also have hurt travel, especially during more expensive times, he said.
"A few years ago these fees were running about $30," Kimura said. "I'd say the surcharge and tax is more than double from last year and to a certain extent the passengers are picking up the cost."
Less-favorable exchange rates in comparison to last year might have played a factor in 2006's Golden Week performance as well, said Akio Hoshino, senior vice president forJalPak International Hawaii.
"We had to increase our tour packages by 10 percent," Hoshino said. JalPak's business was down about 7 percent to 8 percent for the holiday, he said.
Though rising prices and a shortage of space have likely had an impact on the Japan market during Golden Week, it's becoming more common to see Japan tourism to Hawaii spread throughout the year, said state Tourism Liaison Marsha Wienert.
"We don't have as many peaks and valleys from Japan and, when you think of it in the bigger context, it's better for us as a destination," Wienert said. "As we move forward, I think we'll see a steady flow of visitors from that particular market."
During the past six years,DFS Hawaii has seen a drop every year in Golden Week traffic, said Sharon Weiner, group vice president for the company, which attracts a large percentage of Japanese shoppers.
"This year was disappointing," Weiner said, but added that Golden Week's downward movement might be part of a longer term trend.
At the same time Hawaii is becoming more costly and less available to Japanese tourists due to the influx of visitors from the U.S. mainland, other competitive destinations are emerging.
Hawaii is experiencing greater competition from rebounding tourism destinations in China and Southeast Asia, said Yujiro Kuwabara, manager of tour planning and development forJTB Corp., one of Japan's largest tour operators.
"Business to Hawaii in April was about 80 percent of last year and it's about the same in May," he said.
JTB expects the percentage of Japan travelers going overseas for Golden Week to rise 3.9 percent to 565,000 visitors up, from 544,000 last year, according to a recently released travel trends report. The bulk of Golden Week travelers, about 21.3 million of them, will choose to travel within their own country.
The difficulty of taking long holidays in the spring means that a higher proportion of journeys are made to nearby destinations like Okinawa, which has become popular in recent times for its duty-free shopping and new wedding facilities, Kuwabara said.
"Since last year, Okinawa has become a very competitive market to Hawaii," he said. "Hawaii has to be very price competitive to compete. Although we can't control the rise in hotel room prices and air fare, we have to find ways to provide better service and value."
Travel to Hawaii during Golden Week costs substantially more than at other time periods, said Kiyoko Tanji, general manager of Hawaii Tourism Japan.
"That's why many will choose destinations closer to home or will chose to go somewhere like Europe, which is only a little more expensive than Hawaii during this time period, Tanji said.
When it comes to overseas destinations Hawaii is still the most popular, just maybe not when it comes to the more busy and expensive Golden Week period, Kimura said.
"This Golden Week is not really indicative of a negative, as the Japan economy improves the market is going to continue to rise," he said.
"Most of our Japan visitors are repeaters and they'll come back to Hawaii for the safety, beauty and hospitality of this place."