LIHUE — Flights from Japan to Kauai could be a future reality, as the Department of Homeland Security’s U.S. Customs and Border Protection announced expansion of its international inspection program to an airport in Japan.
Instead of flying to Honolulu International Airport to get to a neighbor island, visitors traveling from Japan’s Narita International Airport will be able to fly directly to any island in Hawaii because of CBP’s preclearance program — immigration, customs and agriculture inspections of international air passengers that are completed at foreign airports instead on arrival in U.S. airports. Honolulu’s airport is the only one in the state with a customs and border patrol.
“This preclearance can only add to increased customer satisfaction and thus make Hawaii and Kauai even more appealing,” said Randall Francisco, specialist and film commissioner at the Office of Economic Development County of Kauai, in an email. “Like many travelers, especially, Japanese who travel throughout the world, any process that saves time and convenience is always a plus. This possibility addresses one of the common concerns raised by Japan travelers upon their return after their visit of a foreign destination.”
George Szigeti, Hawaii Tourism Authority president and CEO, said the news is great for Hawaii’s visitor industry.
“Japan remains Hawaii’s largest international market, with more than 1.5 million visitors coming to the islands in 2014, making up 18 percent of visitors to the state,” he said. “Preclearance at Narita, Japan’s largest international airport, would provide greater ease and save time for travelers from Japan when they arrive in the Hawaiian Islands.”
Japanese visitors make up less than 2 percent of Kauai’s visitors as of April of this year – or 7,388 out of 376,819 visitors, according to the Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism.
Francisco is convinced, however, that Japanese visitors are important for Kauai’s market.
“Japan and Kauai are bi-culturally and bilaterally connected and thus, from a business standpoint is a very important and long term sector of the overall visitor industry pie,” he said. “During the recession from 2008, Japanese still came and although the numbers were not as large, still contributed to our economic recovery in visiting and visitor expenditure which added to economic and workforce stimulation.”
Diann Hartman, Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort and Spa director of public relations, said Japanese visitors make up less than 5 percent of the Hyatt’s total occupancy, but added that direct flights from Japan could bring up Kauai’s visitor numbers.
“If direct flights from Japan came to Kauai it would definitely increase the number of Japanese visitors the island hosts,” she said. “Currently visitors from Japan are a very small percentage of the visitor mix but I’m sure direct flights would increase those numbers.”
Gov. David Ige said Japan is Hawaii’s largest international market and brings in over $1 billion annually to the state.