Smaller planes hurt Hawaii tourism
The more fuel-efficient aircraft have fewer seats; officials to urge airlines to up routes
An airline industry trend to replace larger planes with smaller, more fuel-efficient models has the potential to cause further declines in Hawaii's already struggling visitor industry.
Hawaii Tourism Japan officials said the dwindling Japan visitor market, which has seen air seats fall from 3 million in 1997 to less than 1.8 million in 2007, has been hard hit by fuel surcharges and aircraft changes. Through February, arrivals from Japan fell 9 percent to 208,560, and total expenditures have fallen 1.2 percent to $328.3 million as compared to the same period of 2006.
Recent visitor surveys and focus groups designed to gain insight into the falling Japan visitor market indicate that Japan travelers continue to have strong interest in Hawaii, said Takashi Ichikura, executive director of Hawaii Tourism Japan. However, there is little hope for improvement if airline conditions stay the same, Ichikura said
"We need the cost of the fuel surcharge to drop and more air seats if we want to see an increase in the number of Japanese visitors who are coming to Hawaii," he said.
Fuel surcharges, which average about $200 per person, already have taken their toll on the Japan visitor market, Ichikura said.
"Unfortunately, many Japanese visitors have begun temporarily eyeing other destinations where they feel that they can get more value for their money" he said.
Fuel surcharges are expected to weaken travel for Golden Week, which runs April 28 to May 6 and is typically a time of peak travel for Japan visitors, Ichikura said.
"People have become too price sensitive," he said.
The outlook for the rest of the year is even more bearish.
A decision by Northwest Airlines and United Air Lines to replace some Boeing 747 aircraft with twin-engine Airbus A330s will result in a loss of approximately 51,000 seats from now until the end of 2007, Ichikura said.
Extra summer flights from Northwest will bolster the market somewhat, resulting in an actual net loss of 32,000 seats out of 1.8 million previously projected, he said.
And, it's possible that the situation could get worse, Ichikura said.
"We expect Japan Airlines to make some adjustments in 2008," he said.
In the next several weeks, Ichikura -- along with Rex Johnson, chief executive officer for the Hawaii Tourism Authority and several other HTA board members -- will be calling on airlines to restore routes and add more scheduled flights to make up for lost capacity.
While the Japan market has been particularly hard hit by airline changes, Hawaii's domestic market has also experienced a downturn in the number of seats available for travelers.
From April to June, Hawaii's domestic visitor market also will lose 1.7 percent of its air seats due to aircraft changes and the shift toward more West Coast hubs, Wienert said. Atlanta alone will lose 21 percent of its seats to Hawaii during this period, she said.
"There's been a significant loss of seats into the marketplace, but demand and business efficiency dictates aircraft," Wienert said. "Our goal is to try and increase the demand for travel here, which would in turn increase the air seats to the destination."
HTA's proposed 2008 budget, which will be voted on in June, includes a "substantial increase in money to be used for airline industry cooperative campaigns", said Llyod Unebasami, chief administrative officer for the HTA.
HTA budgeted $1 million for cooperative campaigns in 2006 and 2007, Unebasami said.
"These campaigns have been successful in the past," Wienert said.