HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Visitor numbers from Japan last month were "much better than expected," according to the Hawaii Tourism Authority.
They declined 17.9 percent last month, compared with March 2010. Those numbers were supposed to plunge 35 percent because of the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, and concerns over the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.
David Uchiyama, vice president of brand management for the HTA, spoke with Hawaii News Now shortly after returning to Hawaii from a three-day trip to Tokyo.
"I was on the aircraft coming in, and the plane was full," said Uchiyama. "Families, everybody, was so happy to get here, they were running down the isolated corridor of the Ewa concourse this morning."
Spending by Japanese visitors also went down, but only by 4.2 percent.
"We saw a 30 percent increase in spending, and also an extended period of stay," Uchiyama said of the Japanese visitors who came. "They went up to six days here in the islands, where they had been around five days."
Meanwhile, Hawaii fundraising efforts for Japan relief have not gone unnoticed in that country, and have started to pay off some unexpected dividends. Uchiyama said they have meant a lot to the Japanese.
"They feel Hawaii is a place of healing, and this is a probably one of the best places to come after an event like this," he said.
Despite the better-than-expected numbers, there are still other concerns ahead. Rising fuel prices could cut into overall visitor arrivals. Uchiyama noted that the fuel surcharge for travel to Japan will rise to $386 per passenger this summer.
"(Rising fuel prices) affects us with your discretionary spending for you and me because we get hit at the pump," Uchiyama said. "And it affects the fuel cost and airfare, so its a double whammy. So it's a variable that we're really paying attention to."
The HTA had predicted an even more precipitous 45 percent drop in Japanese visitor numbers this month, but Uchiyama said current tracking indicates the decline will more likely be around 25 to 30 percent.
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