There’s no doubt that Japanese tourism to Hawaii hasn’t recovered to pre-pandemic levels. As such, a delegation from Hawaii traveled to the Land of the Rising Sun to discuss Hawaii and Japan’s important relationship. While there Hawaii proposes a Japanese pre-clearance facility to provide visitors with better convenience.
Honestly, I don’t think any amount of discussions or accommodations would improve the number of visitors traveling to Hawaii from Japan. After all, the issues depressing demand are more difficult to remedy – namely, the low value of the Yen compared to the U.S. Dollar. But of course, there was one discussion item that would be useful, just not only for the reason given.
Hawaii Proposes a Japanese Pre-Clearance Facility
The delegation visiting Japan included top state officials, including Governor Josh Green, House Speaker Scott Saiki, and Hawaii Department of Business, Economic Development, and Tourism Director James Tokioka. Though news coverage didn’t report on everything that went on during the visit, the trip appeared to be around relationship building amongst officials and ways to boost Hawaii’s flagging Japanese visitor industry. As I mentioned earlier, I think such discussions are a bit frivolous except for one – Hawaii proposes a Japanese pre-clearance facility.
Apparently, a pre-clearance facility has been under discussion for quite a while now. So why hasn’t it happened yet? Apparently, the costs have been too much to justify for Japanese officials. That hasn’t changed, especially with how low Japanese travel continues to be to the U.S. As a result, Governor Green states that he’ll discuss the matter with our Congressional delegation.
Why is This a Good Idea?
Hawaii proposes a Japanese pre-clearance facility to improve the visitor experience when then arrive in the islands. It’ll allow those traveling from Japan to undergo U.S. Customs screening at their point of departure, allowing them to arrive in Hawaii as a domestic flight, eliminating on-arrival screening, which can take as long as two hours. This is a given to anyone who’s ever done pre-clearance, but the opportunities go beyond this for the islands.
The biggest argument Green made this time around is the ability to fly directly to every island. Today, only Honolulu and Kona have customs screening stations. But if pre-screening were available at a Japanese airport, it would allow airlines to operate direct flights between Japan and Kahului and Lihue. Of course, the benefits extend beyond Hawaii, and could make travel more convenient between any points from Japan to the U.S.
While the discussions revolve around what pre-clearance can do for tourism to Hawaii, it should be mentioned that such an arrangement would benefit the large volume of American visitors heading to Japan nowadays, too. This is particularly true for Hawaii, and other states with large Japanese populations, such as California and New York.
Business could also benefit from this arrangement, especially since there are so many Japanese companies present in the U.S. I’m not going to name all of them, but I’m sure you can thing of at least a few, including automakers, food producers, and even Beam Suntory.
While all of the ideas our delegation brought up as Hawaii proposes a Japanese pre-clearance facility, there are obvious challenges to this. It would take a significant investment from Japan, which is their primary concern. After all, once passengers pass through the pre-clearance facility, they must be held in a sterile area. This would require the airport(s) with such facilities to undergo modification for this requirement. The host country must also share the costs for deploying Customs & Border Protection Officers to equipped airports.
Beyond the logistical challenges, though, are crucial considerations that may be even more difficult to figure out. The top one to me is where you’d place a facility if you could only build one – Haneda or Narita? On the one hand, Haneda is more convenient for all travelers, and would be particularly great for business travel. But Haneda is severely slot-restricted, meaning Governor Green’s idea of direct service to other islands wouldn’t be possible. Narita remains a viable option, too, though its airlines are assigned to terminals based on the alliance they’re affiliated with. That would mean that three different facilities would need to be made.
On Hawaii’s side, would there be enough demand to the individual islands (or in general) to justify this? After all, Hawaiian can’t even operate its Haneda – Kona flight.
Hawaii Proposes a Japanese Pre-Clearance Facility, Final Thoughts
Again, I think it’s a great idea that Hawaii proposes a Japanese pre-clearance facility. That said, there are many challenges that need to be overcome to make such an arrangement viable. As a result, I don’t think it is something we’ll see anytime soon.