Experts: Return of direct international flights key to Hawaii’s economic recovery

The first ANA flight returned Friday morning with 414 people on board — signifying a big step forward in restoring Hawaii’s largest international market.
Published: Jul. 1, 2022 at 5:10 PM HST|Updated: Jul. 1, 2022 at 5:29 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - It may look like tourists are back in full force, but state officials say the vast majority are still coming from within the U.S. and not international markets like Japan they believe are critical for economic recovery.

More direct flights could change that.

On Friday, All Nippon Airways relaunched direct flights from Tokyo to Honolulu on its massive Airbus A-380 after halting flights two years ago. A total of 414 travelers flew from Narita International Airport to Honolulu on the “Flying Honu.”

The plane will fly twice a week to/from Honolulu.

State and business leaders celebrated the return of ANA’s largest passenger plane.

RELATED COVERAGE: After more than 2 years, Hawaii welcomes back first ANA honu-themed plane from Japan

“One flight from ANA on a daily basis is going to support 3,000 jobs. And it’ll provide over $300 million in Japanese visitors spending directly in our economy,” said Mike McCartney, Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism director.

The state is banking on international travel spending to sustain economic recovery and offset soaring inflation and worker shortages. Direct flights are key.

Another carrier relaunching flights is Air New Zealand.

Starting Monday, it’s bringing back three direct flights between Auckland and Honolulu after no flights for two years.

“We were getting a lot of pressure to be recommencing our flights into Hawaii from from our key travel agencies in New Zealand also, the New Zealand public because Kiwis just absolutely love Hawaii,” said Ben Evers-Swindell, general manager of the Americas for Air New Zealand.

As restrictions ease across the globe, business travelers with disposable income are attending international conferences, turning work into extended vacations and spending on tours, food and more.

“Between the U.S. and Singapore, we don’t have any travel restrictions,” said Leonard Sim, a Singaporean non-profit entrepreneur who came to Oahu for an ASEAN Regional Forum on inclusivity.

“I’ll be visiting Waikiki after the conference, have a look, enjoy the sights and of course also shop.”

“It’s 20 hours flight from Mongolia to over here,” said Gandolgor Purevjav, a Mongolian businesswoman and East-West Center alumna who flew to Honolulu for an alumni conference.

“We can meet or we can attend the conference online. But meeting in person is the most valuable part of the conference.”

Added HTA President and CEO John De Fries: “Hawaii is moving toward an era of seeking the mindful traveler, the one who is respectful, the one who is sensitive, and the one who is very much aware.”

Data from DBEDT show more visitors came and spent more per person in May this year compared to May 2019.

“People are dying for a post-COVID vacation, where they want to recharge themselves,” McCartney said.

Though demand is strong, higher costs of airfare and fuel will mean a gradual return to pre-pandemic levels.

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