War threat
slows travel

Local hotels and airlines
are seeing potential visitors
defer or cancel trips as the
U.S. heads to battle

By Jaymes Song
Associated Press

Hawaii's tourism industry is starting to feel the financial pinch of war in Iraq even before any fighting has begun.

Airlines and hotels, still recovering from the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, say they are now suffering a gradual slowdown in business as tourists cancel reservations and postpone their trips amid the looming threat of a U.S.-led attack on Iraq.

Meanwhile, state tourism officials have been working to develop contingency plans for war, including promotional materials and redirected marketing funds.

"Our estimates say bookings and traffic in March is down 10 percent across the system over the trepidation of war," Aloha Airlines spokesman Stu Glauberman said.

Rex Johnson, president and chief executive of the Hawaii Tourism Authority, said other airlines and hotels are reporting similar declines in a state where the $10 billion tourism industry is the lifeline of the economy.

"For April, we're starting to see some cancellations," said Ernest Nishizaki, executive vice president of Kyoya Co. Ltd., operator of the 1,852-room Sheraton Waikiki and four other major Hawaii hotels.

"I think with the anxiety and people not knowing, it's causing them to make some changes in plans," he said. "The ones I'm most worried about are the calls we're not getting. People are just holding off at making decisions and just waiting."

Hawaiian Airlines spokesman Keoni Wagner said the carrier has seen "a decline in the pace of reservations" for flights over the next couple months.

Already struggling because of the troubled economy in the United States and Japan, as well as Sept. 11, 2001, Hawaii is bracing for an even rockier economic path ahead.

"The general level of demand for travel has just not recovered since 9/11," he said. "We are doing everything we can to stimulate demand, including aggressive marketing, pricing and so forth. That's helping, but we're still not seeing the type of numbers we saw before 9/11."

The airline industry, faced with high fuel costs and added security fees, have already started offering discounted airfares on their Web sites.

If war begins, the biggest loss to Hawaii's tourism industry will be the high-spending visitors from Japan, according to a Hawaii Tourism Authority report.

"The drop-off in visitors will be much more dramatic and recovery will be slower than U.S. markets," according to the authority's war contingency plan.

That is because the Japanese, which represented nearly one-quarter of the 6.4 million visitors to Hawaii in 2002, have safety issues and want to stay closer to home. They also would rather avoid visiting a nation involved in military action, experts say.

"Common sense would dictate that you shouldn't visit a place where there's a lot of sorrow," Japan Airlines sales manager Gilbert Kimura said.

JAL, which transports about 3,000 passengers from Japan to Hawaii every day, already has experienced a slow "downward trend" in travelers since January.

"It's a gradual thing. It's not going to be a big drop unless war erupts," Kimura said.

Experts and state tourism officials agree that the overall financial impact on Hawaii depends on how severe and long the war lasts and whether there are any terrorist attacks on U.S. soil.

"If it's a very quick war with a minimal amount of casualties, it's certainly a smaller blip on the screen than if there's retaliation through terrorism or threats to airplanes and things like that," Johnson said.

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