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Mayor convenes tourism strategy initiative in reponse to Japan Air Lines flight suspensions


Mayor Billy Kenoi today said he is disappointed that Japan Air Lines has decided to halt direct-flight service from Narita to Kona, but said that he is convening a special meeting between the Hawai‘i Tourism Authority, the County, the State Tourism Liaison and other major stakeholders such as the hotels and tour wholesale companies to pursue a strategy to respond to the flight suspension.

“Direct flights are critical to the well-being of our working families and small businesses, and we will work with all of the major players to preserve this vital component of our economy,” Mayor Kenoi said. “Kona is the only airport outside of Honolulu that receives international direct flights, and it is important that we develop a strategy that helps us preserve the federal infrastructure that is now in place in Kona to serve international arrivals.”

“The early warning that JAL plans to suspend flights to Kona in October gives the stakeholders an opportunity to collaborate with other airlines that may be interested in the Kona route,” Mayor Kenoi added.

HTA President and CEO Mike McCartney said JAL has been an excellent partner and participant in Hawai‘i’s tourism industry, providing direct flights to Kona since 1996. McCartney said he hopes the airline will re-evaluate its decision and restore its long-standing direct-flight service to Kona soon.

“We understand that the suspension of the Narita-Kona route was a difficult business decision for the airline. JAL has been a loyal partner and friend to Hawai‘i. While saddened by their difficult decision, we will continue to stand by and collaborate with JAL,” McCartney said.

“Like airlines worldwide, JAL is facing difficult market conditions and financial challenges,” said State Tourism Liaison Marsha Wienert. “Fortunately, JAL’s decision comes at a time when the tourism data demonstrate there is still demand in Japan for travel to Hawai‘i. Japanese arrivals to the County of Hawai‘i were up 1 percent year-to-date through March 2010 over arrivals during the same period in 2009. In fact, JAL’s flights to Kona brought 69,175 visitors to the County of Hawai’i last year, a 4.4 percent increase over 2008 arrivals on the same route. These are positive indicators that may encourage other airlines that are looking at Kona.”

JAL considered suspending service to Kona last year, but state, County and tourism industry officials urged the airline to reconsider and continue providing service. The latest announcement that JAL will halt service to Kona in October comes in the midst of a company-wide restructuring that will eliminate 16,500 jobs at JAL.

Leaders in the County of Hawai‘i visitor industry will gather in Kona today with HTA leadership and State Tourism Liaison Marsha Wienert to plan the next steps forward. Attending that meeting will be Mayor Kenoi; HTA President and CEO Mike McCartney; David Uchiyama, who is HTA’s vice president of brand management; and Big Island Visitor Bureau Executive Director George Applegate. Other participants will include representatives of major hotels, tour companies and other interests with a stake in the direct flights.

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