A government-backed marketing campaign to reassure Japanese tourists that they can still smoke in Hawaii has lit up a public health row in the US islands.
Previous tourism industry and press reports, quoted here, have noted reaction to Hawaii’s smoking bans over the past year or so. Figures released by the Hawaii State Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism in February indicated that arrivals from the U.S. West Coast were actually up by 1.4 percent for January, while arrivals from East Coast residents were down a whopping 9 percent. "[W]e can’t help wondering about this correlation, since the West Coast states have, on average, a lower percentage of smokers than the East Coast and Mid-West states," said John Lindelow, owner of Travel Hawaii, an Internet travel plan retailer.
"We believe the smoking ban is indeed having an impact on the Hawaii tourism market," said Lindelow. "Sales to Japanese travelers, in particular, are down considerably compared to last year, and we can’t help but wonder about the correlation between the ban and this slump in our industry."
According Lindelow’s firm, Hawaii’s tourism industry is in a slump, with overall January arrivals down nearly 6 percent from January 2006 and the lucrative Japanese market down over 12 percent. The decline came on the heels of Hawaii’s strict new smoking ban, which went into effect in November 2006, and many in the tourism industry believe the smoking ban is chasing away a good portion of Hawaii’s traditional clientèle.
Japan is considered a "smoker’s paradise" relative to the U.S., and some observers feel that the cigarette-puffing Japanese tourists are being deterred from visiting Hawaii, in favor of more smoker-friendly destinations. "We’ve had several Japanese clients with pre-paid bookings cancel their reservations because they couldn’t get a smoking room," said Chris Freas, Sales Manager at Travel Hawaii.
More recently, despite Hawaii’s tourism being highly dependent upon smokers and particularly the Japanese tourist trade, the local anti-smoking mafia has begun screeching in outrage that some in the hospitality business are working hard to dispel the notion that Hawaii hates people who smoke. The spectacle of anti-smoking operatives loudly undermining honest business people proves, once again, that anti-tobacco is somewhere between contemptuous to hostile in its attitude to the hospitality industry. Anti would surely consider the extirpation of Hawaiian tourism collateral damage of a small order in her holy war on smokers. If the industry doesn’t know that now it had better learn fast.