|Theo Panagiotoulias, senior vice president of Hawaiian Airlines, talks about the Korean market in an interview with The Korea Times at the Westin Chosun Seoul, Tuesday. / Korea Times photo by Shim Hyun-chul|
By Kim Hyun-bin
There has been a sharp surge in Koreans visiting Hawaii in recent years.
According to Hawaii Tourism Korea, about 260,000 Korean travelers visited the islands in 2017, a threefold increase on 2010 when a little over 80,000 visited.
Theo Panagiotoulias, senior vice president of Hawaiian Airlines, said the company has played a key role in raising demand.
"Hawaii has become a very popular destination for Koreans and we are a big factor in that, accounting for approximately one third of the market," Panagiotoulias told The Korea Times in an interview in Seoul, Tuesday.
The airline launched its Incheon-Honolulu route on Jan. 12, 2011. Since then, it has operated over 3,700 flights and carried nearly 800,000 people.
Hawaiian Airlines has been successful in appealing to Koreans by providing services that resonate with them, from making sure a Korean-speaking flight attendant is on board to offering Korean food and reading materials, according to the airline.
However, Panagiotoulias believes the airline's strongest selling point is the Hawaiian ambience flowing through the aircraft, where customers can be part of the slogan "Hawaii Flies with Us." They feel the authentic Hawaiian hospitality and experience from the moment they check in, he said. That image has now become a part of the airline and a powerful and effective marketing tool to appeal to prospective customers.
"When you get on board, you will notice the difference in the ambience of the aircraft," Panagiotoulias said. "The entire aircraft, from material used for seating to the lighting we use, has got the Hawaiian culture and nature weaved subtly into it throughout the cabin. Most of our crew members are local who give that genuinely authentic warm Hawaiian experience and hospitality that people talk about everywhere they go."
The airline has had many promotions targeting Korean travelers and recently launched a "Free Maui Getaway" that provides a complimentary Maui roundtrip ticket when flying with the airline from Incheon to Honolulu.
"More than half our customers now incorporate other neighbor islands into their vacation," Panagiotoulias said. "Maui for honeymoons, and for families, the Big Island to see the volcanoes and natural beauty. There is a lot just beyond Waikiki for Korean travelers. To accommodate the rise in popularity, we launched the Maui initiative."
Hawaiian Airlines offers five nonstop flights weekly between Incheon and Honolulu, with an average of over 80 percent seat occupancy, according to the airline.
To meet increased Korean demand, the airline is seeking to provide daily nonstop flights. But for now, the carrier will provide temporary daily services during the winter peak season from Jan. 14 to Feb. 6, 2019.
"We are going daily during the Lunar New Year (holiday) to see how successful we can be during some of those days that have less demand than others and hopefully aspire to achieve daily in the future," Panagiotoulias said. "But we need to do it in a careful, progressive manner."
The recent joint-venture agreement with Japan Airlines (JAL) also is expected to benefit the Korean market, providing more flight routes to Hawaii, he said.
"Even Korean customers will benefit enormously, providing new options to connect customers from Busan via Japan and offer other options from Gimpo rather than just Incheon for Korean travelers," Panagiotoulias said.
The airline provides services in seven countries, and 12 cities within the United States. But it says it's always looking at opportunities to expand.
"We will start Boston and Honolulu in April next year, which will become the longest domestic U.S. sector," Panagiotoulias said. "Internationally, we are always looking for new markets. Australia represents still more opportunities for us and looking at Southeast Asia, there are plenty of markets, such as the Philippines, Taiwan and Hong Kong, which are certainly on the radar."