Hawaii Braces for Downturn in Travelers From Japan

HONOLULU -- A tsunami spawned by the deadly earthquake in Japan caused tens of millions of dollars in damage to homes, businesses and boats in Hawaii after the waves roared ashore last week.

Now the islands are bracing for another hit -- a loss in travelers from Japan.

Gov. Neil Abercrombie predicted the economic consequences will be severe for this tourism-dependent state that is already dealing with a projected shortfall of nearly $1 billion over the next two years.

"It's going to be terrible. It's going to be rough," he said earlier this week. "It's something that we have to come to grips with."

Hawaii is the top U.S. destination for the Japanese, hosting more than 1.2 million of the 16.6 million total outbound tourists last year. Visitors from Japan poured about $1.9 billion into Hawaii in 2010, or about 17 percent of the $11.4 billion overall visitor revenue.

The Japanese are treasured in the Aloha State for their affection of shopping and dining. They also embrace Hawaiian culture and outspend American visitors nearly 2-to-1 on a per-person, per-day average. Each day, there are 13 direct flights from Japan to Hawaii, bringing in anywhere from 3,000 to 5,000 tourists.

The tragedy is being followed closely here and has prompted residents, businesses and government leaders to respond with widespread fundraising efforts in this state, which has close ties with Japan. The first Japanese immigrants arrived here more than a century ago to work on the sugar canes fields with their children and gfirst daily flight between Honolulu and Tokyo's Haneda International Airport, said it has no plans to change or delay its scheduled launch of daily nonstop service between Honolulu and Osaka in July.

Meanwhile, Hawaii is stressing that it is "open for business," with minimal damage to visitor industry infrastructure. Two Big Island hotels have been closed temporarily because of tsunami damage -- the Four Seasons Resort Hualalai and Kona Village Resort.

McCartney said an analysis and plan to address the possible downturn will be completed in the next seven to 10 days.

"We're looking at the different scenarios, various markets and various alternatives, but our focus at this moment is offering them support," he said. "Our relationship goes much deeper than just a visitor destination-kind of a relationship. We're standing by them. That's the most important thing."