Despite global slowdown, the return of international visitors is a bright spot for Hawaii


HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) – As travel restrictions ease across the globe, Hawaii is welcoming the return of international visitors ― who could be key to a robust economic recovery.

Tourists from one Asian country in particular are happy to be back and eager to spend.

Multinational marketing company Unicity is bringing in hundreds of Korean employees for a paid vacation in Honolulu, a reward for their hard work.

“When Hawaii was named the destination, employees worked harder to be able to come here.” said Eunjoo Lee, chairman’s club member of Unicity Korea, through a translator.

Mira Yoon’s tour company is organizing the group’s excursions. She says Unicity had to take charter flights from Korea because there weren’t enough commercial flights available.

“Not many companies organize the big group travel yet,” said Yoon, co-owner and vice president of Tournet Hawaii. “So this is the first group we have. And this is almost like 1,300 people coming to Hawaii. It’s really amazing.”

With travel restrictions easing in Korea, business owners are looking forward to the summer season.

“It’s gradually getting better and recovering. And all industry people was waiting and preparing for that. Now we’re getting this moment,” Yoon said.

“Hawaii is ready. We love to see them and they like to come here.”

The return of foreign visitors is the only bright spot in the economic forecast released Thursday by the University of Hawaii Economic Research Organization.

According to the second quarter report, economists expect Hawaii to feel the effects of higher interest rates, soaring inflation and supply chain issues from Russia’s war on Ukraine.

But they add that international tourism will offset those impacts. They expect arrival numbers to be near pre-pandemic levels and visitor spending to come in a third higher than last year.

“International travel, business travel, they’re respectful of our cultural environment, they tend to stay longer, they spend money, they circulate in the community,” said Mufi Hannemann, president and CEO of Hawaii Lodging and Tourism Association.

And tourism officials say that means more jobs.

“It has a ripple effect. It’s not just people flying here on the airlines or staying at the hotels, it’s a small businesses that start to open up,” said Hannemann, who estimates the economic impact of conferences and corporate events at about $50 million so far this year.

He says it’s a good start but still far from what he would call a full recovery.

And while Koreans may be back in large numbers, the lucrative Japanese market is still hampered by travel restrictions.

It’s something Gov. David Ige hopes to change as he’s courting leaders in Japan this week.

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