Budget Vacation? Japan Creates Bargains in Hawaii

Last Updated Apr 13, 2011 12:31 PM EDT

Are record-setting gasoline prices messing with your plans for a budget vacation? You might want to scrap the long drive to Grandma's in exchange for a trip to Hawaii. The traditionally high-cost tropical haven is awash in cost-cutting, largely as the result of the Japanese tsunami and nuclear crisis.

The Japanese crisis affects Hawaiian vacations because about 18% of the travel to these tropical islands comes from Japanese visitors, who have been understandably cancelling vacations left and right, experts said.

"Anytime you have 18% of the market cancelling, it's a good time to look," said Jack Richards, president and chief executive of Pleasant Holidays, in a recent interview.

Pleasant, one of Hawaii's largest travel operators, continues to be busy, Richards said. But a lingering Japanese crisis is likely to depress May and June bookings for many operators, potentially leading to more cost-cutting.

Even before the Japanese earthquake, tsunami and nuclear reactor crisis, the recession had slowed Hawaiian travel bookings and put the whole state on sale, added Eric Maryanov, president and owner of All-Travel.com, a Los Angeles-based travel agency.

But the Japanese crisis delivered another blow to Honolulu, which is the top destination for Japanese travelers, he said. Where U.S. vacationers often visit Hawaii's outer islands -- Maui, Kauai and Lanai -- the Japanese prefer Oahu, and particularly Honolulu, for the long-sandy beaches, wealth of activities and luxury shopping. As a result, the best bargains are likely to be along Waikiki beach, Maryanov said.

Indeed, a search on travel web sites Expedia and Orbitz revealed that flights to Honolulu from Los Angeles were going for as little as $400 round trip -- that's about half the price United Airlines was advertising last week. And many three and four-star Honolulu hotels were advertised for $100 or less per night -- typically 40%- to- 50% off normal prices.

Maryanov maintains there may be even better values to be had for those willing to book through a travel agent. The reason: Agents can advise you about relative values, steering you to luxury hotels that are the biggest comparative bargains. These may not always offer the absolute cheapest nightly rate, he says, but they're likely to be the nicest hotels for the price.

"The cheap stuff will still be cheap," Maryanov said. "But I think you are going to find mid-range and high-range stuff that's at lower prices than ever. It might still be $40 more than the hotel you found on Priceline, but it is likely to be a much better value."
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