Japanese tourists shifting focus to Hawai'i's culture
By Lynda Arakawa
Advertiser Staff Writer
Hawai'i is seeing more Japanese travelers this year, but they're not the same type of visitors who flocked here years ago, according to those in the tourism industry.
While many are still attracted by Hawai'i's beaches and shopping, more Japanese are looking to experience Hawai'i's culture and natural resources. They are also more independent, wanting to explore places on their own.
"Truly, the Japan traveler is just different from the historic Japanese visitor, who came to Hawai'i only to shop and go to the beach," said Frank Haas, marketing director for the Hawai'i Tourism Authority. "We're seeing more of an interest in authenticity and culture. You're seeing Japanese travel for fitness and wellness."
Haas said multigenerational travel also has grown, with more families taking trips together.
Satomi Takeda, a 28-year-old visitor from Japan, said her agenda includes — in addition to shopping and lounging on the beach — diving, kayaking, massages, facials and a trip to Kane'ohe.
"We need to feel free," said Takeda, who does marketing for a software company. "We want to do what we want."
Kumiko Yoshihara, a 21-year-old student visiting Hawai'i for the fourth time, said she was interested not only in shopping but in seeing historical sites, such as those in downtown Honolulu.
Japanese arrivals to Hawai'i have picked up this year, and industry experts see a recovery of the market hurt by Japan's sagging economy, SARS and the Iraq war.
Meanwhile, Japanese tourists have become more sophisticated, and are looking for different experiences, said Kiyoko Tanji, general manager of state contractor Hawai'i Tourism Japan. With more competing destinations such as Bali and other Asian resorts, travelers have been demanding more, and no longer want to follow the crowd, she said. More Japanese are using the Internet to book their own travel arrangements, she said.
A survey by Tokyo-based Nomura Research Institute showed Japanese across the board want products more suited to individual tastes and lifestyles.
While the Japan market still relies predominantly on wholesale package tours, "we're starting to see the emergence of new independent travel," Haas said. The state's marketing programs are directed at introducing Hawai'i to the Japanese beyond stereotypes, emphasizing such things as art, culture and athletic activities, he said.
Others also have made changes to accommodate the growing interest. Japanese travel agency JTB has added nature and cultural tours that include hiking, ocean activities, trips to Bishop Museum and 'ukulele lessons, said Yujiro Kuwabara, general manager in customer service for JTB in Hawai'i. The number of visitors interested in those packages is relatively small, but growing, he said.
This summer Bishop Museum created a new kumu hula program targeting Japanese visitors, said Ann Wharton, the museum's marketing director. The museum has seen a 30 percent increase in Japanese visitors since Sept. 11, 2001, she said.
Toni Marie Davis, executive director of the Activities and Attractions Association of Hawai'i, said Japanese travelers are doing more outdoor activities and participating in "immersion-type experiences," such as farm tours.
"The Japanese visitor seems to be first in line for those kinds of things," she said.
More Japanese visitors are taking part in hula and 'ukulele lessons offered in the Royal Hawaiian Shopping Center, said promotions director Michele Cadiente-Cargo. Hula lessons average up to 100 participants, of whom perhaps 75 percent are Japanese, up from around 50 percent, she said.
There's also an increased interest in Hawaiian quilting, she said, adding that visitors are becoming more familiar with the teachers.
Rental car companies are also seeing an increase in Japanese customers, an indication that they are more confident about touring the Islands on their own. Business has never been better for Nippon Rent-A-Car in Waikiki, said vice president Toshi Mori, who has worked with the company since 1990.
"This is going to be a record revenue year," he said. Japanese travelers have become "more westernized now, so they want to use their own time with their own space."
The more independent Japanese traveler, who ventures beyond typical tourist spots, provides an opening for local shops and businesses that traditionally have not catered to the Japanese visitor market.
"We know they're venturing out," said Dolores Hansen, president of Shop Hawaii USA. "We're even getting them in Kailua."
Seen at http://the.honoluluadvertiser.com/article/2004/Oct/04/bz/bz01p.html