HONOLULU (KHON2) — The Hawaii Tourism Japan (HTJ) said the Japan Association of Travel Agents is sending its first delegation to the islands. The visit may come with some good news for locals whose sights are set on Japan.

HTJ said Japan is currently open for travel, but for those who have a visa or are an exchange student. That could change soon.

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“The Japan government and the Japan travel industry is telling us that those restrictions for tourism reasons from the U.S. should be eased as well and so that’s where we’re looking at probably sometime in the summer when Hawaii residents are able to travel back to Japan.”

Eric Takahata of Hawaii Tourism Japan.

Local travel agencies are already seeing an increase in interest.

“People are discussing it more and I think with the opening of Hawaii on March 26 helped,” said John DeFreitas from Panda Travel. “The local folks feel a little bit more comfortable and it’s allowing them to think that they can go overseas now.”

Panda Travel has had a quiet two years due to the pandemic, but it’s looking forward to seeing the Hawaii to Japan market bustling again.

“We were averaging about 60 to 70 tours a year. It’s a big chunk of business that has just been sitting idle and we’re just waiting for the engine to turn over again and get going,” DeFreitas said.

Hawaiian Airlines is currently operating four weekly flights to and from Japan, compared to 35 flights pre-pandemic. The airlines is prevented from increasing operations, because of a cap on arrivals to Japan.

However, the Japan government’s decision to increase arrivals to 7,000 this month is a promising sign.

As for travelers coming into Hawaii from Japan, the numbers are still pretty low, averaging 350 a day, but that’s expected to keep increasing.

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“Around golden week is when we’ll see more Japanese and more significant numbers coming to Hawaii and then moving forward after that into the summer, we should see a nice bump,” Takahata said.