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Visitors climb from Down Under

Arrivals from Australia and New Zealand increased 26.5 percent last year

By Allison Schaefers

POSTED:


Down Under has turned it into more of an up-and-over market for Hawaii's visitor industry.

Arrivals to the islands from Australia and New Zealand jumped 26.5 percent last year and are expected to continue to climb, especially after flights are added in April.

"Last year was a record year for Oceania," said Helen Williams, country manager of Hawaii Tourism Oceania, a contractor for the Hawaii Tourism Authority. "We had the most travelers that we've had since carriers switched to more efficient planes and quit stopping in Hawaii to refuel."

As many as 172,962 visitors from Oceania came to Hawaii in 2010 and spent $341.7 million. That surpassed the Hawaii Tourism Authority's arrival target by more than 6 percent and surpassed the spending target by more than 3 percent.

"We were really happy with our results and have good reason to believe that they will continue into 2011," Williams said. "The global financial crisis didn't have the same impact on Oceania as it did in other parts of the world. Travelers still have jobs, they haven't lost wages or been furloughed and travel demand is high."

This year the region is projected to be the fastest-growing major market to Hawaii outside of Korea and China. HTA expects arrivals this year will increase another 8.7 percent to 188,000 visitors while spending will rise another 9.8 percent to $384.6 million as travelers continue to take advantage of the favorable exchange rate and additional flights.

Tim Hutchinson visited Hawaii in 1993 and returned last fall with his wife and children and two other families to take advantage of bargains in the market.

"It's much cheaper since our dollar is so good," Hutchinson said.

In October, demand for commodities and high interest rates helped Australia's dollar hit par with the U.S. dollar for the first time since it was floated in 1983. The Australian dollar has edged out the U.S. dollar several times since then. On Friday it was worth about 98 cents in the U.S.

Honeymooners Daniel and Maxine Viola of Perth, Australia, said the strong Australian dollar allowed them to stay at the luxury Halekulani Hotel and go on adventures at the Polynesian Cultural Center and Kualoa Ranch. They chose Hawaii in part because of how it looked in movies like "Jurassic Park" and "50 First Dates" and in the TV series "Lost."

"We had a fantastic time," Maxine Viola said. "We loved being where the films were shot. We loved the beaches, but we also loved learning to hula and exploring the island."

Many New Zealanders also fell in love with Hawaii last year, and the growth trend looks to be continuing this year, said Darragh Walshe, New Zealand's country manager for Hawaii Tourism Oceania.

"Demand is high," Walshe said.

But with just one carrier, Air New Zealand, providing direct service with two flights a week and three in the winter, the biggest challenge remains a lack of passenger seats, he said.

"Air New Zealand will be putting on some additional flights this year to try to cope with demand, but we are working hard to lobby more flights from the market," Walshe said.

Aussies have benefited from more flights. Their market should increase even more after Hawaiian Airlines increases its nonstop service between Sydney and Honolulu. The carrier will offer daily flights from April 6 to Aug. 1 to meet customer demand during the peak travel season. Starting Aug. 2, Hawaiian will offer nonstop service five days weekly between Sydney and Honolulu. The carrier's expansion adds 19,000 seats this year.

"We know how much Australian travelers enjoy their holidays in Hawaii, so we are increasing our flight schedule during their favorite time of year to travel," said Avi Mannis, Hawaiian's vice president of revenue management and schedule planning. "This gives them greater flexibility in making their plans, and the timing couldn't be better as Hawaii is a great value for Australians."

Brisbane natives Jennie Lilliman and her husband, Kevan, couldn't agree more. The pair are putting the finishing details on a two-week trip to Hawaii in May.

The couple, who have been to Fiji and Southeast Asia, have wanted to visit Hawaii for at least four years, and in that time six couples whom they know have chosen to vacation here.

"I do believe Hawaii is becoming more popular as a holiday destination, probably because of our strong Australian dollar, and also I have noticed more advertising for holiday specials," Jennie Lilliman said.

The opportunity to sail around the islands on Norwegian Cruise Line's home-ported Pride of America and spend extra days ashore in Waikiki won out over a holiday in Canada and Alaska, she said.

"For this trip we have combined the cruise with some 'land' time in Waikiki, and we are both getting very excited," Lilliman said.

While the cruise price was comparable to an earlier Southeast Asia cruise they took, she said the hotel rate was higher than offerings from Australian and Southeast Asian hotels.

"We figured just go for it," she said. "You only live once."

Sarah Short, who visited Waikiki in 2009 when the Queen Mary 2 docked here, is returning in September to celebrate her mother's 70th birthday.

Although Short had considered Bali and Thailand as possible trip destinations, the memory of brief time that she spent in Hawaii called her back.

"I had to come back. It's stunning," Short said.

While Hawaii has long been a destination favored by Aussies, demand seems to be growing, she said.

"We like the weather, the relaxed atmosphere and friendly people," Short said.

Although leisure trips have dominated the reasons that Oceania visitors have come to Hawaii, business and incentive travelers are showing more interest, said Michael Murray, Hawaii Visitor and Convention Bureau vice president of sales and marketing for corporate meetings and incentives.

"There is great optimism in terms of the results from last year and the momentum that is building," Murray said. "We have great accessibility in terms of lift, and the exchange rate is doing very well. These things provide a great platform to nurture relationships and to cultivate new relationships."

HVCB kicked off a large marketing blitz on Feb. 11 with an Aloha Friday trade show and reception in Sydney. Its efforts were augmented by marketers from the Kauai Visitors Bureau, Oahu Visitors Bureau, Maui Visitors and Convention Bureau, Big Island Visitors Bureau, Hawaiian Airlines, Hilton Hawaiian Village, Moana Surfrider, Sheraton Maui, Starwood Hotels & Resorts Waikiki, Waikiki Beach Marriott, Waikiki Edition, Kathy Clarke Hawaii and MC&A Hawaii.

Murray also brought a team of 14 salespeople to Australia earlier this week to sell the islands during the country's largest annual meetings trade show, the Asia-Pacific Incentive and Meetings Expo. The event, which took place Feb. 14 to 16 in Melbourne, attracted some 2,000 meetings and event-buyers from throughout the Asia-Pacific.

Adele Tasaka, HVCB's senior director of accounts, said she expects expo will bring a strong response in new business opportunities for Hawaii.

"Australia has historically been a reliable market for Hawaii's meetings industry, and we're confident our collective sales efforts this year will produce good results in attracting more group business to Hawaii," Tasaka said.

Williams said Hawaii marketers at the expo have told her that event inquiries are up 400 percent from last year.

 

OCEANIA SNAPSHOT

CATEGORY 2010 RESULTS % CHANGE (2009) 2011 GOAL % CHANGE (2010)
Arrivals 172,962 26.5 % 188,000 8.7 %
Spending $350.3 million 36.7 % $384.6 million 9.8 %
Spending per person/day $204 0.50 % $206 1 %

Source: Hawaii Tourism Oceania





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