Island Air, which only offers flights within Hawai‘i, expanded its market reach through partnering with Jin Air. [Image: James Brennan]

Airline Partnership Connects Hawai‘i to Seoul


Hawai‘i‘s Island Air and Korea’s Jin Air are now offering continuing reservations to neighboring Hawaiian islands on Seoul-Honolulu flights. Passengers can now add Maui, Kaua‘i, and Kailua-Kona to their Seoul-Honolulu flights on a single ticket and check luggage to their final destinations. Jin Air, which operated its first flight to Honolulu in December 2015, will offer the single ticket service five times per week. Island Air currently maintains travel alliances with China Airlines, Japan-based ANA, Japan Airlines, Australia-based Qantas, and Philippine Airlines.

The partnership, which will bring more Asian tourists to Hawai‘i, carries economic significance for the state. More than 8.8 million passengers arrived by air in 2016 to Hawai‘i, and the number is expected to exceed 9.4 million by 2020. Korean tourists to the state increased 27% from 2015 to almost 246,000 in 2016. The daily spending of Korean visitors, one of the highest among Asian tourists, averaged $295 per person in 2016. The number of Korean tourists in the United States has been increasing following the addition of Korea to the US visa waiver program in 2008. The Hawai‘i Tourism Authority, the state agency for tourism with offices in various Asian countries, is also actively working to promote Hawaiian culture and attract tourists. HTA’s Korean initiatives include a tour operator conference in Seoul, Busan, and Gwangju in June, a new Korean TV show that explores and promotes Hawai‘i, and a “Hawai‘i ambassador program” featuring Korean celebrities.

Island Air is not the only airline enhancing its focus on the Asian market. Hawaiian Airlines, the state’s largest airline, is hiring more Japanese and Korean-speaking employees to attract more customers from the two countries. The airline increased flight routes and frequencies to Japan in 2016 and currently flies to Australia, Japan, Korea, and China. American Airlines also invested $200 million in a strategic partnership with China Southern Airlines, the largest airline in China. The investment — announced in March — could boost tourism from southern China to many US cities.

Genna Liu is a research intern at the East-West Center in Washington and a government and economics student at Dartmouth College.