For decades, Japanese visitors have loved Hawaii. They have been an important source of tourism revenue for the state. But after the COVID-19 pandemic, the number of Japanese travelers visiting Hawaii dropped significantly. Before the outbreak, the number of Japanese visitors in Hawaii was nearly 20 percent of the overall visitor population.

Despite the decline, there are still connections between Japan and Hawai’i. During a recent regional summit, more than 200 leaders from the two countries discussed how to continue to promote and develop their relationship. The leaders came from a variety of industries, including hospitality, travel, and clean energy. While the discussions centered on strategic issues, the diverse group also had ample opportunities to interact with each other. This allowed for actionable results.

The Summit, which took place in Kona, gathered more than 200 industry leaders from Hawaii and Japan. It aimed to strengthen existing relationships and create new partnerships. Some of the leaders included Governor David Ige, Vice Governors Fukuoka, Oita, and Shizuoka, and Dr. Daniel Okimoto, founder of the Governors’ Circle initiative.

The group of industry professionals shared best practices and insights on how to continue developing relationships. A panel on tourism discussed how to encourage two-way tourism. In addition, participants heard from experts on cross-cultural education, expanding business in Hawaii, and how to promote Hawaiian culture.

Those in attendance also listened to a keynote speech from Dr. Yasunobu Kyogoku, managing partner of Innovation Global Capital. He said that Japanese tourists spend the most per visit. Additionally, Japanese travelers tend to be wealthy.

Several Japanese carriers have announced plans to increase their flight schedules to Hawaii, although they haven’t begun operations yet. All Nippon Airways will begin operating two round-trips per week from Narita to Honolulu. Other airlines will begin adding flights in the summer. However, the daily cap for arrivals in Japan is 20,000. These caps include both arriving and returning Japanese.

After the COVID-19 pandemic, Japanese travelers had less time to travel to Hawaii. Although they’ve started trickling back, the number of Japanese travelers visiting the islands is still considerably lower than before the outbreak. As a result, Hawaii hopes to see more visitors from Japan.

Hawai’i Tourism Japan will focus on developing products that connect visitors with the community and natural beauty. The company is already collaborating with Hawaii hotels and attractions to bring more than 200 Japanese travel agents to Hawaii last October. Another goal is to leverage long-standing relationships with Japan, and to target segments of the market that are most likely to increase spending.

As Japanese travelers start trickling back to Hawaii, Hawai’i hopes to capitalize on their relationship. Whether they’re bringing their families, or enjoying a luxury beach vacation, they’re a very important part of the overall visitor community. Their presence will help the state promote its unique qualities to international guests.

The success of the summit is proof that Hawaii and Japan are indeed connected. And with the right connections, the two countries will grow their relationship.