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Nonstop to Tokyo will be a boon

Gains expected in business, tourism with shorter flight

By Katie Johnston Chase
Globe Staff / May 28, 2011

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Boston’s business and tourism industries yesterday were buzzing with the news of the new nonstop service between Logan International Airport and Tokyo, which they say could significantly increase travel and business opportunities in Japan and other parts of Asia.

The new 13 1/2-hour Japan Airlines flight, which is slated to begin in April in partnership with American Airlines, will enable travelers to shave as much as six hours off the time it currently takes Boston passengers to connect through other cities to get to Tokyo. That is welcome news for local businesses — and their employees.

Boston-based IBM software executive Jeff Calow recently returned from a business trip to Japan, connecting through San Francisco, and after a delayed flight lengthened his four-hour layover, he wound up watching CNN in the San Francisco airport for nearly seven hours on his way home.

“Trading that for a 13-hour flight would be great,’’ he said. “It will definitely save time and save aggravation.’’

The nonstop flight will improve productivity, too.

“Not having to fly through Chicago or the West Coast saves you one full business day one way or the other,’’ said Jon DiVincenzo, executive vice president of the bioscience business unit at EMD Millipore. The Billerica medical equipment maker does $300 million a year in business in Japan — its second-biggest market after the United States.

Roger Servison, president of strategic new business development for Fidelity Investments, said the flight also could lead to new business opportunities. Fidelity employees make dozens of flights each year from Boston to the company’s offices in Tokyo. The nonstop flight, he said, might increase travel between the two cities, which could generate more business.

“The more you’re over there, the more you learn, the more opportunities you might find,’’ he said.

Companies that do business in Asian countries beyond Japan may also benefit from the flight. Boston-based employees of Procter & Gamble travel frequently to the consumer products’ company offices in Singapore, Shanghai, Beijing, and Kobe, Japan. Now, those cities will be easier to reach, said spokesman Damon Jones.

“It’s making that entire region of the world more accessible,’’ he said.

The flight is a victory for city and state officials who had been lobbying airlines for years to get nonstop service to Asia. Massport had been trying to land more nonstop international destinations since 2008, when it launched an incentive plan that grants marketing initiatives and waives or discounts landing fees for up to two years — a savings of up to $1 million. Overall, the Massachusetts Port Authority estimates that the new service will have a $175 million economic impact on the region each year.

“By opening up nonstop service, it makes it easier and more likely for other business to be generated,’’ said Daniel Kasper, a Boston aviation consultant at the economic litigation firm Compass Lexecon. “That builds up business ties, cross-investments — in other words, perhaps leading to some increase in Japanese investments in companies in Massachusetts or in New England, and perhaps more joint ventures between Boston investors and firms in Japan.’’

But businesses aren’t the only beneficiaries of the new flight. The local tourism industry will also get a boost, said Patrick Moscaritolo, president of the Greater Boston Convention & Visitors Bureau, who estimates that the annual number of Japanese visitors to Boston — both business and leisure — will increase by 20 percent after the flight is in place, a $16 million boost to the local economy.

Japan represents the fifth-largest contingent of overseas visitors to Boston, Moscaritolo said. The number of people traveling between Boston and Tokyo went down during the recession, from 81,600 in 2008 to 70,800 last year, and the earthquake and tsunami in March put a damper on traffic in the past few months. But prior to those natural disasters, Japanese visitors to the United States increased by 18 percent from December to February of 2010 to the same period in 2011, Moscaritolo said.

“I’ve always argued that the problem is that we don’t have the nonstop service,’’ he said.

Katie Johnston Chase can be reached at johnstonchase @globe.com.