Tuesday, November 24, 2015         


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The tourism agency's new goals speak to lower expectations and slower recovery

By Allison Schaefers


The Hawaii Tourism Authority's new targets for visitor arrivals and spending indicate the agency expects the state's tourism industry to take at least three years to make up for losses in 2008 and 2009.

The board, which manages the state government's tourism budget and sets tourism policy, does not expect visitor spending to surpass 2007's $12.8 billion peak until 2013 and estimates arrivals will take longer to reach the 7.63 million peak of 2006. While driving visitor spending is the board's primary long-term focus, its 2011 strategy appears to retain the crisis posture from 2010. This year the authority will look for ways to increase per-person, per-day visitor spending even as it tries to convert demand from targeted markets into bookings.

The agency set goals yesterday of 7.229 million arrivals and $12.07 billion in spending for this year. Next year the authority wants to see 7.4 million visitors spending $12.65 billion. By 2013 it expects arrivals to increase to 7.49 million and spending to grow to $13.24 billion. Last year, 7.08 million visitors came to Hawaii and spent nearly $11.6 billion, according to the agency's data.

The state board wants to get back as soon as possible to its 10-year plan, which focuses on spending more than arrivals, said Kyoko Kimura, an authority board member.

When the board switched its strategy in 2009 and 2010, Kimura said that it had anticipated returning to its goals this year.

"We wanted to be positioning ourselves as an economy in recovery in 2011; however, our governor thinks that this year is still in crisis," she said.

The board's current strategy of increasing arrivals to increase spending will work in the short term, but the industry will need to attract higher-spending visitors to reach its longer-term goals, said Sharon Weiner, board vice chairwoman. Once arrivals reach full capacity, the only way to expand tourism is by increasing visitor spending, Weiner said.

"We aren't here to bring bodies to this state. We are here to bring money to this state," she said.

The new goals are based on historical visitor data and assumptions such as a continuing demand for Hawaii travel, airline expansion and favorable exchange rates for international visitors from Japan, South Korea, Australia and Canada, said David Uchiyama, the authority's vice president of brand management.

If fuel rises to more than $100 a barrel, exchange rates grow less favorable, or if there are problems like Asian bird flu, the goals might not be reached, he said.

The agency decreased its spending target last year after direct service from Hainan Airlines missed its planned launch at the end of 2009, said Daniel Nahoopii, tourism research director.

At the same time, more flights from other markets resulted in better-than-expected arrivals, Nahoopii said.

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