The U.S. state of Hawaii is working with its national and Japanese immigration authorities to create a system that allows Japanese tourists to complete immigration and customs procedures before departing their country, Hawaii Gov. Josh Green said recently.
Speaking in an interview with Kyodo News, Green said the new initiative would allow direct flights from Japan to more Hawaiian islands, even those with no immigration facilities, making travel more convenient and in turn boosting local economies that have seen a downturn in tourists from Japan since the coronavirus pandemic.
The plan would include the island of Maui, which was devastated in August by wildfires that left more than 100 people dead or missing.
"It's very important that people travel to Maui because our recovery will be accelerated if people do visit anywhere in Maui, anywhere at all," Green said during a recent visit to Japan.
According to Hawaiian authorities, around 1.17 million people traveled to Hawaii from Japan between January and September 2019, before the pandemic, compared to about 380,000 people in the same period this year.
Japanese visitors have been slow to return compared to tourists from elsewhere, including the mainland United States, with Green attributing it to the yen being "weaker than normal" and younger people showing less interest in travel.
Currently, Daniel K. Inouye International Airport in Honolulu on the island of Oahu is the main gateway to the islands from Japan. If travelers can complete immigration procedures before departure, it will simplify entry to Hawaii and pave the way for direct flights to other islands, such as Maui, Green said.
Japan previously agreed on a similar pre-departure immigration clearance initiative with South Korea in 2002, when the two East Asian countries hosted the football World Cup.
But the United States is believed to be concerned about creating offshore immigration procedures, and the federal immigration authority will decide whether to implement them.
Japanese tourists to Hawaii spent $1.65 billion between January and September 2019, but $608.5 million in the first nine months of 2023, according to the Hawaii Tourism Authority.
"Japanese tourists have traditionally been among our best tourists because they are very thoughtful about the culture and also spend a great deal of resources," Green said, adding he aims to do what is necessary to promote travel between Japan and Hawaii.