JAL celebrates 10 years of its Big Island route
In a climate where carriers are cutting routes to accommodate rising fuel cuts, Japan Airlines yesterday celebrated its 10th anniversary of service between Tokyo and Kona and pledged continued support for this critical route -- the only direct flight between Asia and the neighbor islands.
Government and business leaders and members of Hawaii and Japan's visitor industry gathered in Kona yesterday to mark the 10-year milestone of flights between Tokyo's Narita International Airport and Kona International Airport.
"Ten years is a huge accomplishment, one that has impacted Hawaii's Big Island in an extremely positive way," George Applegate, executive director of the Big Island Visitors Bureau, said in a statement. "Because of this flight, the Big Island is second only to Oahu in the number of Japanese visitors."
The flight, which runs daily and can carry between 237 and 400 passengers depending on the size of the plane used, is Big Island's only direct international flight and many have said it is vital to the continued growth of its tourist economy. During the past decade, JAL has carried more than 700,000 visitors from Narita to Kona.
In recent years, JAL has cut many flights between Hawaii and Japan due to fluctuations in demand and escalating fuel prices and other costs, but the carrier has remained committed to the Big Island, said Gilbert Kimura, JAL spokesman.
"We've maintained this route because it is critical to the growth of our neighbor island market," Kimura said.
While Hawaii remains the top overseas destination for Japanese travelers, the state's share of this visitor market has been declining in recent years due to competition from new, emerging destinations, he said.
"We don't have Disneyland or gambling; the only thing that we can offer is the natural beauty of Hawaii by spotlighting the unique attractions of each island," Kimura said.
Because most Japanese visitors spend their time in Hono-lulu, the Big Island -- with its volcanoes, unique terrain and deep-sea fishing -- is seen by Asian tourists as somewhat of an emerging destination for Hawaii, he said.
"The Japanese know Hono-lulu and Waikiki, but when they see images of the Big Island's volcanoes or the Kona Coast they want to come to Hawaii," Kimura said.
Last year, 16 percent of Hawaii's Japanese visitors, or 244,095 tourists, visited the Big Island and spent about three days there, according to statistics from the state Department of Business, Economic Development & Tourism.
Because of JAL's success on the Big Island, the carrier is also interested in beginning direct service from Maui to Japan, Kimura said.
"We will probably look at Maui in a few years when the cost of fuel comes down and the airline becomes more financially stable," Kimura said.