A New Breed

Hawaii’s tourism industry tries a different approach with Japanese tourists

February, 2001

Mounted above the stairwell of a bustling Tokyo subway station is a poster of a Japanese bride and groom in Hawaii. They’re surrounded by a handful of close friends, palm trees and the Pacific Ocean. In a similar advertisement in a Japanese travel magazine, an office lady lounges in a hammock on a Hawaii beach. The caption underneath her says: “Only in Hawaii can I feel this way.”

Both multimedia strategies are part of the $10 million Aloha Magic campaign by the Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau to lure more Japanese tourists to the Islands this year. As Japanese tourists evolve into independent, seasoned travelers, travel industry leaders agree they must alter their Hawaii-touting techniques to appeal to the new breed. “Consumers in Japan are so information-hungry and at the same time, they’re so saturated with information,” says Steven Matsuo, the bureau’s sales director for Japan marketing. “We need to remind them about their emotional attachment with Hawaii.” McCann-Erickson Japan and the bureau initially launched the Aloha Magic series last August, but with a different approach: each segment depicted a leisure activity through the eyes of a repeat visitor. “The point of the campaign was that Hawaii is so beloved by the Japanese, there’s a contingent of Japanese travelers who come back for more,” says Barbara Okamoto, vice president of customer trends and communications for the bureau.

While Hawaii may kindle the hearts of Japanese travelers, other destinations—particularly in the Asia-Pacific region—are enticing them with speedier plane rides and bargain-basement prices. “It’s cheaper to go to Korea for a weekend than it is to stay within Japan,” Okamoto says. A two-night trip to Seoul, Korea, sells for an average of $300, according to the Japan Travel Bureau. In 1998, Japanese tourists to Korea (1.9 million) surpassed Hawaii’s market share (1.56 million) for the first time. And if Korea isn’t on their travel agendas, Japanese are flying to shopping and resort destinations China, Bali, Australia and Guam, according to the bureau.

Promoters of Hawaii can revel in the fact that Hawaii still ranks among the most desired travel destinations, according to a 1999 travel bureau survey. In a multiple-choice questionnaire asking respondents to rank their wish list of destinations, 48 percent said Hawaii, which ranked right behind the No. 1 choice, Australia (50.2 percent). In a separate survey of single answers, 13.8 percent of the respondents wrote “Hawaii.” It preceded second choice Australia (9.4 percent), Canada (8.7 percent), Switzerland (7.9 percent) and Italy (7.1 percent).

Hawaii in 1999 was host to 1.83 million Japanese tourists, an 8.9 percent drop from 1998. As of October 2000, 1.54 million visitors from Japan visited Hawaii, a .3 percent climb over the same time in 1998.

Joseph Toy, president and chairman of Hospitality Advisors, describes the typical Japanese tourist in Hawaii: “They’re becoming more exploratory, more demanding, and willing to set their own pace.” The number of first-time travelers rose 2.7 percent from 1998 to 1999, and repeat travelers fell 19 percent, according to the Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism.

Japanese also are thriftier than they ever have been. Albeit thrice more than the average spending of mainland U.S. and European travelers, Japanese tourist expenditures still dropped 9 percent to $230 from 1997 to 1998. “They’re stripping down tour packages and only paying for air and accommodations,” Toy says. One segment that witnessed a 16 percent jump from 1997 to 1998 was the honeymoon and wedding market. If they weren’t saying vows in Hawaii, Japanese were traveling as families—with children, grandma and grandpa in the next plane aisle. “We’re seeing a mini family boom,” Okamoto says. “The people who came as young single adults are coming back with their children and they’re bring their parents. Three-generation family vacations aren’t uncommon. We need to capitalize on the senior market.” Japan’s Baby Boom population is estimated at 9 million; their children (ages 23-28) number nearly 12 million.

Given these demographics, promoters have concocted their campaigns to appeal to budget-conscious, family-oriented travelers who are either first-timers or already familiar with Hawaii. “Our ads create an oasis of calm and it stresses focuses on all the variety of things that people keep returning to Hawaii to see and experience,” Matsuo says.

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Cathy S. Cruz