For decades, Hawaii has outshone Okinawa as an island destination for tourists. That looks about to change.
The number of visitors to the southern Japanese islands jumped 10.5 percent in the year ended March 31 to a record 8.77 million people, according to Okinawa prefecture data. That compares with the 8.93 million that went to Hawaii in 2016, an increase of 2.9 percent, Hawaii Tourism Authority data show. At this pace, Okinawa could overtake Hawaii as early as this year, according to Miwako Date, the chief executive officer of Japanese developer Mori Trust Co.
Driving the boom in Okinawa is the influx of tourists from Taiwan, South Korea, mainland China and Hong Kong, who opted for some sand and sun closer to home. Companies are betting that the expansion will continue, with hotel developments completed or planned there for Hilton, Ritz-Carlton, Hyatt Regency and Hawaii’s Halekulani.
While about half of the visitors to Hawaii are from overseas, in Okinawa the percent coming from abroad is still low, so it’s possible such travelers will increase, said Tom Sawayanagi, managing director for Japan at JLL.
“I’m extremely positive about the tourism prospects of Okinawa,” Martin Rinck, the Asia-Pacific president for Hilton Worldwide Holdings Inc., said in a news conference this month. Hilton is planning to open three more hotels from 2018 to 2020 in Okinawa, where it now operates the Chatan Resort, he said.
Mori Trust, Hilton Worldwide and Hilton Grand Vacations Inc. said this month that they will build a combined time-share resort and hotel facility in the southern prefecture with about 430 rooms. They plan to open it 2020-2021...