Swine flu scares away Japanese visitors

Garret Fagerstedt
Garret Fagerstedt
Frank Haas
Frank Haas

By Zahid Arab - bio | email

HONOLULU (KHNL)- The Swine Flu's scare has sent shock waves of uncertainty throughout the world, especially Japan and that's hurting Hawaii businesses.

Soaking up the sun, or saying " I do", in Hawaii, Japanese visitors are a familiar sight.

"We've had two Japanese customers today," said Mini Coupe Hawaii Assistant Sales Manager Garret Fagerstedt.

Mini Coupe Hawaii opened up in February.

"They kind of pop out at you," said Fagerstedt.

Last year, almost 20% of Hawaii's visitors were Japanese, that's more than a million people. Their money matters.

"It's important. Basically it's 30-40% of our business, it keeps us going," said Fagerstedt.

Waikiki's Hawaiian Water Sports sells boards and lessons. Japanese numbers nose-dived worse than 9/11 during the SARS scare in 2003. Swine Flu shows signs of the same.

"I think it will have a tremendous impact on small businesses, they'll take a huge hit," said Employee Kanai Weatherwax.

"It's as much an info-demic as a pandemic, people have taken the swine flu idea and blown it out of proportion," said UH School of Travel Industry Management Interim Assistant Dean Frank Haas.

Experts say visitor industries are fragile to crisis, strikes, even economic and health conditions. Some Japanese companies are requiring workers who travel to the U.S. to wait five to ten days at home after their trip, before coming back to the job.

"It'll definitely effect Hawaii, Japanese love it here," said Fagerstedt.

Businesses hope to clear up concern, by showing Swine Flu is under control. The only way to "rev up" Hawaii's attraction.

"It's a little bump in the road right now, but over time, people will come back again and visit Hawaii," said Haas.

Tour companies say more Japanese group reservations are being canceled because of the scare.They hope once the situation relaxes, Hawaii's retail, attraction, hotels and resorts can once again reap the rewards of business from the Japanese.