Hawaii Governor Josh Green is working with state and federal authorities on a plan that would allow Japanese travelers to complete all immigration and customs screenings prior to departing Japan. The move is aimed at boosting Hawaii’s tourism industry, which has seen a slow recovery in visitors from Japan compared to pre-pandemic levels.
Under the plan, Japanese tourists who clear all entry requirements before leaving Japan could take direct flights to more Hawaiian islands, rather than funneling through Daniel K. Inouye International Airport on O’ahu. This would open up direct access to islands like Maui, which saw its economy gutted by wildfires this summer that killed over 100 people.
Japanese visitor numbers are less than a third of what they were prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. Around 1.17 million Japanese tourists came to Hawaii in the first nine months of 2019, spending $1.65 billion. For the same period in 2023, only 380,000 Japanese visitors came, spending $608 million.
Gov. Green believes that, in addition to pandemic impacts, a weaker yen and shifting generational travel preferences have slowed the return of Japanese tourists. He aims to promote Hawaii travel with this streamlined entry plan.
Japan previously implemented a similar immigration pre-clearance system with South Korea for the 2002 World Cup. However, the U.S. has shown more reluctance towards creating offshore immigration procedures. Federal authorities will make the final decision on whether Hawaii can move forward with this plan.
In the meantime, Hawaii continues taking small steps to revive Japanese tourism. Last November, the state started allowing Japanese travelers to bypass quarantine requirements if they test negative for COVID-19 within 72 hours of departure.