Visitor Industry Shows no Signs of Slowing Down

Allison Schaefers, The Honolulu Star-Advertiser, December 5, 2012

Increased tourism is the gift that keeps on giving for Hawaii's visitor industry, which moved past the traditional October shoulder season with nary a slowdown in sight and is heading toward a strong year-end finish and start next year.

The Hawaii Tourism Authority reported Thursday that October visitor arrivals grew 8.6 percent from a year ago to 640,666, and spending rose 12.7 percent to $1.1 billion.

"We didn't see any resemblance of a shoulder season in October," said Alvin Wong, sales and marketing director for the Sheraton Princess Kaiulani. "The momentum from summer has continued into fall and beyond. We're looking at mostly 90 percent occupancies into the first quarter of next year."

October's gains have met or surpassed HTA's monthly goals and have kept Hawaii's industry on track to reach its year-end targets.

"As tourism continues to stimulate Hawaii's economy, the HTA is optimistic that this positive momentum will continue through the rest of the year and will lead us to exceed our aggressive 2012 targets of 7.89 million total visitor arrivals and $13.9 billion in total expenditures," said Mike McCartney, HTA president and CEO.

All four of the larger Hawaiian Islands reported growth in total expenditures and arrivals. However, the neighbor islands still lagged Oahu in terms of filling their hotel and other accommodations.

"Distribution remains a major priority for the HTA, and together with our marketing contractors and industry partners, we continue to work to drive travel to the neighbor islands," McCartney said.

Arrivals from Hawaii's core U.S. West visitor market, which encompasses 11 Pacific states west of the Rockies, rose for the 12th consecutive month. The 9.6 percent year-over-year gain brought 255,602 U.S. West visitors to Hawaii in October. Spending by these visitors rose 15.2 percent from October 2011 to $381.7 million.

U.S. East arrivals dropped by 1.4 percent in October to 118,799 visitors. Those who did come stayed longer, contributing to a 2 percent rise in spending to $245.4 million.

Arrivals from Japan, Hawaii's top international market, grew 15.2 percent to 125,742 visitors. The monthly gain outpaced the U.S. East, which is traditionally Hawaii's second-largest market behind the U.S. West.

Spending from Japanese visitors also increased to $236.4 million, an 18.8 percent gain from October 2011.

Yuriko Kasamo, who was checking into the Sheraton Princess Kaiulani on Thursday with her family, said fall is a good time to travel to Hawaii because the weather is better than at home in Kanagawa, Japan.

"It's warmer here," said Kasamo, who was on her eighth trip to Hawaii. "It's getting cold in Japan."

Canadian arrivals, which fell in September, fell again in October. The 4.4 percent decline resulted in only 28,276 Canadian visitors coming last month; however, a longer average stay kept spending flat at $57.4 million.

Visitors Dianne and George Shaw of Calgary said Hawaii remains incredibly popular with Canadian travelers.

"People also like to visit Phoenix and Mexico," Dianne Shaw said. "We've been there but we love it here. We've been to Hawaii about 30 times."

Arrivals from other markets, which include emerging areas like China, Korea, Taiwan, Latin America and Europe, grew 11.1 percent to 84,241 visitors. Total spending from these developing markets grew 19.1 percent to $185.1 million.

"People are coming from all over the world," said Princess Kaiulani chef Ralf Bauer, who increased the international elements in his Christmas gingerbread village in the hotel lobby. "We have always been an international hotel with plenty of guests from Japan, but now we are seeing more visitors from Taiwan, China, Australia and Canada."

Visitor arrivals by cruise ships climbed 28.1 percent to 28,006 visitors from October 2011. They spent $6.7 million in Hawaii, which was a gain of 109.9 percent from the same month last year.

While the pace of gains was slightly slower than the first nine months of the year, October increases helped push year-to-date total visitor arrivals up by 9.5 percent and spending by 18.9 percent. Through October, 6.6 million visitors came to Hawaii and spent nearly $11.8 billion.

"As a result of building stronger price positioning for Hawaii's product offerings, visitor spending in October 2012 continued to show significant growth, generating an incremental $1.9 billion in total expenditures and $204 million in additional tax revenue for the state," McCartney said.

"These increases in spending helped to balance the slower growth in visitor arrivals in October, which can be attributed to the historic trend of yielding travel prior to a presidential election."

The growth in total air seats to Hawaii also bodes well for Hawaii tourism, McCartney said.

Total air seats in October increased to 828,932, which was an 11.3 percent rise from the same month in 2011. Year to date, air seat capacity is up 8 percent.

"Hawaii has become the fourth-largest port of entry in the U.S., after New York, Miami and Los Angeles," he said. "We've got the fastest growth rate at 24 percent; we just passed Newark." ___

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