Japan Correspondent

TOKYO, Japan — As many as 50 flights from Japan are scheduled to touch down in Hawaii in December as the Aloha State’s travel industry begins its gradual campaign to return to normality in a year in which airlines, hotels, travel agencies and all the related business sectors have been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic.

According to the Hawaii Tourism Authority, 183 visitors arrived in the state from Japan in October, down 99.9% from the same month one year previously, but still positive news given the plummeting figures for arrivals from Hawaii’s most important foreign source of tourists after the trans-Pacific quarantine requirement was introduced on March 26.

On Oct. 15, the state introduced a pre-travel testing program that allows passengers arriving from out of state or from another country to bypass the 14-day quarantine requirement if they are in possession of documentation from a Trusted Testing and Travel Partner to show that they have tested negative for the coronavirus.

In October, Hawaii welcomed 76,613 travelers by air, compared to 796,191 arrivals by air and cruise ship in October 2019. The majority were from the continental US, with 389 arrivals from Canada and 3,064 from all other international markets. That figure included arrivals from Guam, officials confirmed to the Journal, although exact figures for arrivals from Guam are not available, as well as the Philippines.


The number of Japanese arrivals will be boosted in December after more health facilities in Japan became recognized members of the state’s Trusted Testing and Travel Partner scheme, said Eric Takahata, managing director of Hawaii Tourism Japan.

“The pandemic has been devastating for Hawaii, because we are 100% dependent on tourism,” he told the Journal. “For that source of income to be taken away, the effect has been devastating from top to bottom — and that is doubly unfortunate as our inbound tourist numbers had been trending higher before this happened.”

There were some 10.42 million arrivals in the state in calendar 2019, up 5.4% from the previous year and led by domestic U.S. arrivals, then Japanese, Canadian, Oceanian and South Korean visitors. Of that total, Japanese arrivals came to 1.57 million, Takahata said, and the forecast for the full 2020 year before the pandemic broke out was slightly over 1.6 million.

Japan was the first foreign nation to be approved for the pre-travel testing program, with 21 medical facilities approved before Nov. 6 by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to carry out the prescribed tests and grant the certification to exempt a traveler from quarantine. That figure has now increased to 57 laboratories, Takahata said, and more are likely to be certified in the coming months.

Statistics for arrivals from Guam are not tracked, Takahata said, as the number of leisure travelers between the two destinations is “very low” because both are primarily beach resort destinations. In addition, the majority of Guam residents carry U.S. passports and are therefore counted in the U.S. statistics. 

At an Oct. 20 press conference to announce the Japan-specific travel program, HTA President and CEO John De Fries said, “There is a strong cross-cultural relationship between the people of Japan and Hawaii, which over time has forged a foundation of mutual respect.

“Historically, the Japan traveler to Hawaii has been mindful and sensitive to our local ways and cultural traditions,” he added. “At a time when we in Hawaii seek to resuscitate our economy, the resumption of trans-pacific travel from Japan is welcome news.”

Equally positive is that Hawaii’s seven-day rolling average for the percentage of tests that come back positive is holding below 2%, according to data provided by Johns Hopkins University. That figure is significantly below the peak of 6.4% reported in the state during the surge in August that raised questions about the wisdom of reopening to tourists. The New York Times has since stated that Hawaii is the only state in the U.S. where the virus is not spreading out of control

According to Takahata, approximately 80% of the hotels across Hawaii have reopened to visitors, with more planning to do so in December, although few are operating anywhere near 100%.

Every single property has instituted some sort of safety protocols for guests, he said, with the big chains — such as Hilton and Sheraton — adopting international standards set across their groups.

Given the relative positivity of the situation within Hawaii, Takahata is cautiously optimistic about the outlook for the Japanese inbound market — although issues within Japan could still derail a rebound in visitor numbers, he admitted.

The Daniel K. Inoue International Airport in Honolulu expects more Japan visitors in December.
Photo courtesy of Hawaii Tourism Authority

“I would say that now is a really good time to come to Hawaii because it is less crowded and we are seeing our flora and fauna coming back more and more,” he said. “And there are good indications for the Japanese market, but the problem might lie with the Japanese authorities.”

Domestically, Japanese cases of the virus are spiking once again with the major cities of Tokyo and Osaka, as well as Hokkaido in the far north and Okinawa also reporting surges. Nationwide, health authorities are reporting more than 2,000 new cases a day and the total number of infections has soared past 143,000. Fatalities to date have reached 2,028.

The Japanese government has introduced travel advisories that put Hawaii at the same warning level as the U.S. mainland, calling on people to “reconsider” their travel plans or postpone their trip. That effectively makes it impossible for the big travel firms, such as JTB Corp. and HIS, to market package tours.

“The number of Japanese visiting Hawaii has slowed to a trickle this year, but we are hopeful that as a vaccine comes out and the situation changes, things will get better,” Takahata said. “We expect to see a slow ramp-up in arrivals in 2021 and a far more clear-cut increase in 2022 and the following year.” mbj