Japanese visitors and Hawaii’s tourism industry got a big boost recently: The U.S. Department of Homeland Security just announced that it intends to expand preclearance to ten new foreign airports, including Japan’s Narita International Airport.
The announcement means that visitors from Narita, one of the busiest international airports in Asia, will have greater ease of access and will be able to save significant time when they arrive in Hawaii.
According to Szigeti, President and CEO of the Hawaii Tourism Authority, preclearance means travelers would go through customs at Narita airport and be allowed to skip customs in Hawiai. This will allow for direct travel from Narita to the neighbor islands without having to transit at Honolulu International Airport, currently the state’s only airport with Customs and Border Patrol.
It would also provide relief for other international travelers to the state, lessening the total number of visitors having to go through customs in Honolulu. And, since Narita Airport is a major international hub for other countries in Asia, preclearance at Narita could also help to stimulate travel growth from other markets that transit through Japan.
Japan remains our largest international market for travel, with more than 1.5 million visitors coming to the islands in 2014, making up 18 percent of visitors to the state. One of the major initiatives for the HTA is to distribute visitors across all of the Hawaiian Islands.
Senator Mazio Hirono praised the announcement. In a press release, she stated, “The fact that that the United States will go forward in working to expand preclearance to Japan’s Narita International Airport is a good news for Hawaii’s tourism industry, the economies of our state and nation, and visitors from Japan who are eager to visit Hawaii.”
She added, “Japan is one of our closest allies and our countries have so much to offer one another. Travel between our two nations is just one way we can continue to strengthen our relationship. Tourism is our state’s number one industry and anything we can do to promote travel to Hawaii is a step toward strengthening our economy and creating jobs.”
The press release pointed to recent statistics which support the initiative’s importance for Hawaii. According to Hirono’s office, in 2013, travel supported a total of 8 million U.S. jobs. Visitors from Japan in particular spent $18 billion, second only to visitors from Canada.
“Easing air access to the islands is important to facilitating travel to the islands, especially as we experience a decline in visitor arrivals from Japan,” said Governor David Ige. “Pre-clearance would help alleviate congestion at the Honolulu International Airport, the state’s only international airport and the fourth busiest international port of entry in the country. This would give our valued customers a better travel experience and encourage repeat visits to Hawaii.”
The customs station at the Honolulu International Airport has been criticized in the past for backlogs and long wait times. So, advocates of the preclearance approval feel hopeful the move will entice more visitors from Japan.