Japan holiday tourism
here seen up 1%

By Russ Lynch

Hawaii is likely to get 89,000 tourists from Japan during the Christmas-New Year's holiday period, an increase of only 1 percent from 88,000 in last year's holiday season, according to a new survey.

But Hawaii is doing well compared to other destinations at a time when overseas travel by the Japanese is slipping, said Japan's biggest travel agency, Japan Travel Bureau Inc., which surveyed travel agents and travelers.

JTB Hawaii ranks as the top foreign destination for the Japanese while the U.S. mainland ranks second and Hong Kong, last year's No.1 overseas destination for holiday travelers from Japan, is in third place this year, JTB said.

Japan Airlines said there is enough holiday business to allow it to make its usual holiday service increase.

"Right now we don't have a definite picture but we are putting on more planes," said Gilbert Kimura, JAL regional sales manager. He said JAL runs about 10 flights a day to Hawaii from Japan that may rise to as many as 18 on the peak days of the holidays.

But he said the advance bookings have to be viewed with caution since there are occasional duplications, with some people tentatively booking for more than one flight and picking the best one later. Japanese also book closer to the time of their travel than they used to and JAL won't really know until a week before the flights, he said.

JTB had 200 of its retail travel agency offices in Japan report on holiday bookings and surveyed arrangements made by 2,000 travelers. The bookings surveyed covered the period starting with Dec. 23, the Emperor's Birthday national holiday, and running through Jan. 2, a Friday.

Travel within Japan will increase, JTB said, but overseas travel will be down for the first time in 17 years.

"This is put down to a number of factors, including the less favorable sequence of holidays this year, the effect of Japan's persistent recession in curbing demand for travel and of lower exchange rates for the yen, blunting the appetite for shopping," JTB said.

Hawaii has experienced a slowdown in growth in recent years but "is still far from losing its attraction as the place to spend an enjoyable and relaxing time with the family at the year end and New Year," JTB said.

The Sheraton hotels along Waikiki Beach, which get much of their business from the Japanese, expect their rooms to be filled but they are not experiencing the hectic pace of last year, said Keith Vieira, ITT Sheraton vice president and director of marketing for Hawaii.

"For year-end, we expect to be sold out, but there is nowhere near the pressure that we usually have from the wholesalers for more space," Vieira said.

The Aloha Bowl, played on Christmas Day, will boost the hotels' U.S. business as boosters for the University of Washington and Michigan State University teams duck away from the mainland winter, he said.

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