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Talks are underway to expand tourism from Japan as visitors return to Hawai’i

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    HI (KITV ) — With visitors from the mainland starting to trickle back into Hawaii, talks are now focused on expanding tourism from Japan.

Japan normally brings in $2 billion a year to Hawaii’s economy, making it our biggest market for international visitors.

Despite the COVID-19 pandemic Hawai’i can expect those visitors to be back just in time for peak travel season.

For the past 30 years, Enson Inoue has called Japan home, but he’s never far from his Hawai’i roots.

He normally goes back five times a year to visit family and keep tabs on his shop in Kaka’ako but he hasn’t been back since the pandemic hit.

“It’s been really tough, you know, it’s coming to a point where if I can’t come back and open up my shop in the next two or three months, I’m not sure if I can continue,” Inoue said.

Now he has some new hope as Hawai’i is considering a pre-travel program for Japan. It’s similar to what’s being done for mainland travelers, getting a test within 72 hours.

However, it is not set in stone. The Hawai’i Department of Health already has the type of test approved for Japan but they don’t have trusted partners to administer the tests in place.

“From what I understand if it’s not an official designated area that Hawaii has okayed, then I don’t think it’ll be okay so before setting any plans I think I still need to wait for that,” Inoue said.

But there is a twist Japanese citizens who visit Hawai’i would still have to quarantine for two weeks once they get home.

Hawai’i Tourism Japan says it’s likely the first Japanese visitor to come to Hawai’i will likely be wealthy because they can afford the time and the costs.

“So yeah we’ll see it start slowly this year and then we’ll kind of get the more avid affluential Japanese traveler this year.. and then we’ll start ramping it up in Q1 of next year,” Hawai’i Tourism Japan Eric Takahata said.

All Nippon Airway says it is expanding the flight scheduled to two round trips from Tokyo for November and are working toward increasing more flights.

“We’ll continue negotiating because in December, there is Honolulu Marathon and this is very high peak season for Japanese tourists,” Hiroshi Shibata of All Nippon Airways said.

Hawaiian Airlines released the below statement when asked when asked about the proposed pre-travel testing plan for Japanese visitors:

“We’re encouraged by the governor’s decision to approve Japan’s COVID-19 testing procedures that will allow travelers from Japan who test negative to be exempt from quarantine upon arrival. We reinstated passenger service between Tokyo’s Narita International Airport and Honolulu on Oct. 1 to support essential travel. We will closely evaluate demand leading up to the launch of a pre-travel testing program for Japan and adjust our service as needed.”

As for Inoue his plans are still up in the air, but says the pre-testing program with Japan might be his only opportunity to get home.

“Of course it’s a gamble and by the end of the year, the end of 2020 I have to get back,” Inoue said.

Right now this would only apply to Japanese visitors coming here. Hawai’i residents still would not be to able to go to Japan.

Hawai’i Travel Japan says our state government is working with the Japanese government on that so called travel bubble, an exception that would consider Hawaii separately from the rest of the U.S. to allow residents of Hawai’i to visit Japan

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