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2005 tourist totals top prefecture expectations

Date Posted: 2006-01-05

The Okinawa tourism industry is wearing a smile this week.

The 2005 figures are in, and more than 5,470,000 tourists set foot on Okinawa soil in the year just ended. Thatís 70,000 more than the Prefecture and local tourism associations had forecast. The numbers are getting pulses pumping that this will be another record year as the new campaigns are continued.

Airlines jumped at the chance to make money in 2005, creating marketing and promotions for the Okinawa travel routes. They paid off, with lots of American greenbacks filtering into tourism.

Airlines are increasing the number of flights to Okinawa, and some are boosting the aircraft on the routes to jumbo jets to accommodate the increasing numbers.

Skymark Airlines stepped forward last summer with night flights to Tokyo. The airline reports its midnight flights were successful, and will return to the island in just a few months.

Okinawa Prefecture gets much credit for its projects to educate tourism industry workers in how to treat visitors. Increased signage in English, additional tourism materials and a more friendly environment is making many visitors tell officials they will be coming back.

Hotels are upgrading their facilities to attract new clientele. The Kariyushi Resort Hotel has taken a big step, contracting to become a Mariott Hotel. Mariott is an American owned, worldwide series of hotels and resorts. Busena Terrace Hotel has spruced up its rooms, adding new names as well to enhance its image. The Atta Terrace Clubtowers has a nice ring to it.

Naha City is seeing growth in the hotel industry, with a half dozen new properties in the past year.

Overnight economy hotels and business hotels are increasing, and managers report the occupancy rates are steady and high.

A remaining challenge for the local tourism industry, aided by the Prefectureís tourism experts, is how to get visitors to spend more money. Much of the current tourism activity is in form of package deals, with airfares, hotels and even rental cars linked. More independent travelers are being sought. Experts also recognize that students, while offering large numbers to the visitor tallies, possess little money to contribute to local coffers.

Planners have their heads together this month looking at ways to attract more visitors, for longer visits, and to spend more money in Okinawa.

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