- Associated Press - Monday, June 22, 2015

HONOLULU (AP) - Hawaii Gov. David Ige says Japan is Hawaii’s most important source of foreign tourists, and his recent trip there was intended to solidify that relationship.

“The relationship between Japan and Hawaii is more than business, it’s more than friendship. It really is about family,” Ige said after he returned from the trip on Friday.

Outbound travel from Japan has been decreasing, but Hawaii was able to maintain a steady number of visitors from the country, he said. “While other destinations were losing visitors, Hawaii was able to maintain the number of visitors coming here,” Ige said.

Over three-and-a-half days, Ige had 19 meetings, including one with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Ige and his chief of staff, Mike McCartney, met with airlines, travel agents and government representatives.

The trip cost an estimated $9,800, which was paid for by the governor’s office, spokeswoman Jodi Leong said.

“We wanted to make sure that those at the highest level in our Japanese partners are fully aware that the governor of the state of Hawaii thinks that relationship is important,” Ige said.

Japan wants to create more student exchange programs with Hawaii, Ige said. Ige’s wife, Dawn Ige, who paid her own way on the trip, visited Chigasaki, Honolulu’s sister city, where schools are seeking to exchange students with Hawaii.

Hawaii also could host concerts and events targeted at Japanese tourists in the run-up to the 2020 Olympics when access to venues in Japan will be limited, Ige said.

Tourism from Japan to Hawaii brings in an annual 1.5 million visitors who spend about $2.5 billion a year, which results in $260 million in state tax revenue, the governor said.

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