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Hawaii is experiencing a tourism boom driven by its prime location between the US and Asia, although Asia is looking to be the considerably more important market to tap based on current trends.

The skies between Honolulu and Japan are about to get a little more crowded.

Korean Air, which has benefited from the 2008 Visa Waiver Program that allowed Koreans to travel to Hawaii and the rest of the U.S. without a visa, is tapping into Hawaii’s largest international market to bring Japanese visitors to Honolulu aboard daily flights beginning Sunday.

South Korea’s largest airline is linking Honolulu and Seoul with a 11/2-hour layover at Narita International Airport near Tokyo. The flight is the first service between Japan and Hawaii in 24 years for Korean Air.

In 1972, Korean Air inaugurated trans-Pacific service with a Seoul-Tokyo- Honolulu-Los Angeles route. Korean Air dropped Honolulu from that route in March 1989.

“Korean Air has come a long way over the last 40-plus years,” Jinkul Lee, senior vice president and American regional director of Korean Air, said during a ceremony Thursday at Honolulu Airport. The ceremony, which included a Korean traditional drum performance, was attended by Gov. Neil Abercrombie; Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell; Young Kil Suh, consul general of the Republic of Korea; and Toyoei Shigeeda, consul general of Japan.

“I am proud that Korean Air is doing its part in bringing more people to visit the Aloha State year after year, and with this new flight we are confident that tourism from Japan and Korea will continue to grow and strengthen the state’s economy,” Lee added.

China Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Japan Airlines, All Nippon Airways and United Airlines already fly nonstop between Narita and Honolulu, providing eight to nine flights a day, depending on the day of the week.

Hawaiian Airlines, ANA and JAL fly to Honolulu from Haneda International Airport in Tokyo.

Korean Air’s newest route will be its third between Honolulu and Seoul. The airline currently offers two nonstop daily flights between the two cities.

In addition, Korean Air is currently offering a daily seasonal charter between Honolulu and Narita that began Feb. 28 and runs through April 5. Last year, Korean Air flew 60 charter flights from Japan to Honolulu.

The nearly 1.5 million Japanese who visited Hawaii last year and the 90 percent-filled charter flights persuaded Korean Air to add the Narita-Honolulu route, according to Harrison Cho, Honolulu service manager for Korean Air.

South Korea visitor arrivals to Hawaii jumped 39.3 percent last year to 156,819 from 112,567 in 2011. Through the first two months of 2013, visitor arrivals have risen 5.7 percent to 25,810 from 24,413.

Suh attributes the increased tourism numbers from South Korea to the Visa Waiver Program.

“It affected us a lot, because before we had the Visa Waiver Program from Korea to here on a yearly basis, there were 40,000 people from Korea,” Suh said. “Last year there was a record 150,000 people — a four-times increase. Economic prosperity is very important to Hawaii. So a lot of visitors from Korea to Hawaii is a big influence to the Hawaii economic area.”

(c)2013 The Honolulu Star-Advertiser. Distributed by MCT Information Services.


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Tags: hawaii, korean air

Photo credit: Korean Air gets ready to depart for Seoul from Heathrow International Airport in London. Frans Zwart / Flickr

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