CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSEL@STARBULLETIN.COM
Some blame the smoking law for a drop in Japanese tourism. Above, Masami Inoue, left, ashed her cigarette while taking a break in Waikiki yesterday with her friend Keiko Shimazu. CLICK FOR LARGE
Smoke-free law may cloud Japan tourism
More than half of Japanese smokers surveyed said it would discourage visits
The state's Smoke-Free Hawaii law, which restricts smoking in public places across the islands, might be clouding demand for Hawaii in a big part of the lucrative Japan visitor market.
Since Hawaii adopted a more restrictive stance on smoking late last year, travel industry professionals and tourists have noted continued declines in the Japan visitor market.
While the drop can't be blamed entirely on the new smoking policy, many Japanese smokers, especially those on reward trips, and meeting planners have complained.
Still, nonsmoking Japanese visitors -- a slight majority in one recent survey -- have said that they love the new law.
Although the state's new Smoke-Free Hawaii law has been blamed by some for the continuing decline in Japanese visitor arrivals, the actual impact is still hazy.
The Smoke-Free Hawaii law, which went into effect four months ago, requires clear designation of areas where smoking is permitted and prohibits smoking within 20 feet of doorways, windows and ventilation intakes in order to prevent secondhand smoke drifting into enclosed areas.
Since Hawaii began enforcing smoking restrictions, many Japanese smokers have complained that they don't want to have to curtail smoking on vacation or leave public gatherings to smoke. Others have said that it's difficult to find smoking accommodations and that they don't want to pay extra for smoking rooms.
Japanese nonsmokers, however, have said that they love the new law. Many of them have noted on Web-site bulletin boards and blogs that they would like to Hawaii's restriction extended to beaches.
"It's too soon to say what the impact has been," said State Tourism Liaison Marsha Wienert.
Japanese travelers have revealed mixed opinions about "Smoke-Free Hawaii" on AlohaStreet.com, a Web site run by Wincubic.com Inc. that gets 3.8 million hits a month, and PacRim Marketing Group's Hawaii-Arukikata.com, which gets about 15,000 hits a day in Japan.
While nonsmokers who participated in a recent Aloha Street survey said that they welcomed the law and want a similar type of law in Japan; more than half of the smokers surveyed said that it would discourage them from visiting Hawaii, said Hajime "Jim" Ueno, Aloha Street's president and chief editor.Of the survey's 597 respondents, 55 percent were nonsmokers.
Smoking restrictions in Hawaii echo those being developed worldwide. Many Japanese smokers are facing similar regulations at home where smoking has been banned on Japan Railways trains, and some restaurants have created smoke-free zones, Erdman said.
While many locations have adopted smoking restrictions, Hawaii's use of the term "smoke free" may be sending a false message that this state is tougher on smokers than other destinations, said Dave Erdman, president of PacRim Marketing, who was in Japan this week to promote the opening of the Waikiki Beach Walk and New Waikiki.
Nariyuki Yamanaka, a 61-year-old Japanese visitor to Hawaii, said that he was pleasantly surprised to find that Hawaii had fewer restrictions than expected.
"I thought I was going to temporarily quit smoking during my stay in Hawaii," Yamanaka said. "However, there were designated smoking areas in both of the hotels we stayed at (Ilikai Hotel & Sheraton Moana Surf Rider) which made my stay more enjoyable."
While certain markets might have been impacted by the legislation, overall, it's been positive for Hawaii, said Gilbert Kimura, spokesman for Japan Airlines
"Less and less people are smoking in Japan," Kimura said. "Our new law could serve as an attraction to these people."
The new smoking law probably has not caused many travelers to cancel their trips, Erdman said.
"Repeat visitors seem to love Hawaii more than smoking, and are savvy enough to know these tough laws are now a global issue, not just a Hawaii issue, he said.
Even so, it has been discussed that some travel groups may have cancelled or gone to other destinations because of their desire to smoke, Erdman said.
However, travel professionals and tourists report that the impact of smoking restrictions in Hawaii has not been felt equally throughout all markets. Hawaii's smoking restrictions are likely to wield less influence on leisure and family travel because travel decisions in these markets are predominantly determined by women, who tend to smoke less, said Erdman.
The impact of smoking restrictions on group bookings for corporate meetings or incentive groups, where there are mostly males, still needs to be researched, he said.
Akio Hoshino, senior vice president for Jalpak in Hawaii, said that he has noticed about a five percent drop in business from Japan's incentive market since restrictions took effect.
"The new smoke-free law is certainly an issue, Hoshino said. "I think it's obvious that the demand for Hawaii has suffered."
When group travel organizers find out about Hawaii's smoking restrictions, many start looking elsewhere, he said.
"If you know that the boss is a smoker, it would be difficult for you to choose Hawaii as a destination," Ueno said "You would be too afraid that you'd get blamed."