Golden touch


POSTED: Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The number of Japanese travelers who say that they intend to visit Hawaii during the upcoming Golden Week holidays has risen 8.6 percent, returning some luster to the market, according to a survey released recently by the Japan Travel Bureau.

Much lower fuel surcharges, a stronger yen and lower costs are expected to boost the number of travelers from Japan who plan to go overseas for Golden Week for the first time in three years, according to the JTB survey, which was based on the answers of 1,200 prospective travelers polled in March. In addition to capitalizing on price advantages, travelers also will have an opportunity to use holiday entitlements to extend the break from five to 16 days, JTB said.

“;It looks like this year's Golden Week could be golden,”; said Dave Erdman, president of PacRim Marketing Group. “;We haven't heard that statement in a long time.”;

Golden Week, which runs from April 25 to May 6 this year, has long been a popular travel time, when Japanese travelers capitalize on precious vacation time. However, in recent years, travelers from Japan had begun to buck that trend due to difficulty in finding hotel rooms and flights and the higher costs associated with vacationing during a peak period, said Akio Hoshino, senior vice president for Jalpak International Hawaii.

And, more recently, Hawaii had seen demand weaken as savvy Japanese travelers have begun turning to destinations that are newer, cheaper and closer to home, Hoshino said.

But this year the holiday is regaining some of its earlier momentum, said Danny Ojiri, vice president of sales and marketing for the Asia-Pacific region for Outrigger Enterprises Group.

JTB Corp. said it expects the percentage of Japanese travelers visiting Hawaii for Golden Week to rise to 38,000 from the year-ago 35,000.

“;The stars haven't lined up like this in a while,”; Ojiri said. “;I don't think it's an anomaly; I think it's an indication of better times to come.”;

Japan business is up at Outrigger's newly renovated Ohana Waikiki Beachcomber and Outrigger Reef hotels, he said.

PRTech, PacRim Marketing Group's sister company, also has reported advance reservations for Golden Week are running 30 percent ahead of the prior year, Erdman said.

It's too soon to tell whether Golden Week's momentum will carry forward despite Japan's struggling economy, Hoshino said.

“;Total demand from Japan to Hawaii is still weak because of the economy,”; he said, adding that while volume is up for Golden Week, total forward projections through September are not as strong.

Still, the travel behavior of Japanese consumers is not always reflective of the economy, Erdman said.

“;Often they move in opposite directions, as we saw during the mid-'90s when the Japanese economy was pretty sick,”; he said.