Fuel surcharges could deter visitors to Hawaii


Honolulu – Another increase in the fuel surcharges on Japan Air Lines flights has travel officials here worried about the impact on Japanese visitors — especially families — coming to Hawai’i for vacation.

The latest increase in fuel surcharges took effect on Jan. 1. The airline announced Dec. 28 that it applies a fuel surcharge and insurance surcharge on all international passenger tickets. The surcharge applies to Japan Air Lines flights operated by other airlines and its international subsidiaries Japan Asia Airways and JALways.

The surcharge increased by 26 percent, rising to 12,500 yen for tickets purchased in Japan for travel to Hawai’i. It previously was 9,900 yen.

The airline and other carriers are among companies adding surcharges to cope with rising oil prices. Locally, Matson Navigation Co. will increase its surcharge for ocean cargo to 31.5 percent on Feb. 4, and Hawaiian Electric’s monthly bills include the charge. But the surcharge is worrisome for the Japanese visitor market, which has been slumping.

The airline first added a fuel surcharge to the price of tickets on Feb. 1, 2005 and has increased it several times since.

Last month, officials said the latest hike was “due to continued escalating fuel costs.” Airline officials added “if the fuel price fluctuates further, we will amend or delete the fuel surcharge.”

“Due to continued fuel cost hikes, JAL was unfortunately forced to raise their fuel surcharge once again,” said Takashi Ichikura, Hawaii Tourism Japan/Executive Director.

“As of Jan. 1, 2008, the fuel surcharge for a round trip ticket on JAL is 25,000 yen (around $225),” he said. “On top of airport landing fees and taxes, total surcharges amount to more than 30,000 yen (around $270) per ticket.”

Ichikura said the number of families visiting from Japan “are definitely being impacted by these surcharges.”

For example, a family of four now has to pay more than $1,000 in surcharges alone, he said.

“As a result, many Japanese are starting to visit alternative destinations such as Okinawa, where there are no fuel surcharges, and/or southeast Asian destinations where their money will go farther,” Ichikura said.

He said Hawaii Tourism Japan has been communicating the need to incorporate up-to-date fuel surcharges into the price of airfare tickets and tour packages in order to overcome consumers’ growing qualms over travel costs.

The Japan Association of Travel Agents is considering this issue and will be announcing ways to incorporate fuel surcharges into the price of air tickets and tour packages later this January, he said.

Due to overall cost increases of traveling to Hawai’i, Ichikura said the industry recognizes “the need to reposition Hawai’i as a destination that offers more valuable and unique experiences to its visitors.”

He said officials are working with the Hawai’i Tourism Authority on a new marketing campaign called “So Much More Hawaii” throughout 2008 “to reinvigorate Hawaii’s appeal to repeat visitors and enhance first-time visitor experiences.”

Japan Air Lines said it is taking a number of measures to limit the impact of fuel price increases, including fuel hedging, fuel consumption reductions and the introduction of smaller aircraft to its fleet.

“Despite these measures, the company is still reluctantly obliged to ask its international passengers to bear part of the burden caused by the unprecedented increase in the price of fuel over the past few years,” the airline said in a statement.