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State tourism rebound picking up speed

By Allison Schaefers

LAST UPDATED: 1:41 a.m. HST, Oct 31, 2012

Added airlift and a strong line up of festivals and events are expected to keep momentum high as Hawaii's visitor industry moves beyond September into the fourth quarter.

The Hawaii Tourism Authority reported Tuesday that September visitor arrivals grew 6.1 percent to 595,019 and spending rose 15.6 percent to $1.1 billion, which was $146.5 million more than in September of 2011.

"We are encouraged by the growth we have seen in expenditures and arrivals for the year so far, and remain committed to working with the industry and our global marketing partners to achieve our targets of $13.9 billion in expenditures and 7.9 million visitor arrivals by the end of 2012," said Mike McCartney, HTA president and CEO.

While arrivals increased at a slower rate in September than recent months, McCartney said the HTA was pleased that the pace of expenditure growth has not weakened.

"Double-digit increases in visitor expenditures across the four major islands and Molokai for September contributed to an increase of $1.7 billion, to $10.7 billion, in year-to-date spending over 2011," he said.

Arrivals from Hawaii's core U.S. West visitor market, which encompasses 11 Pacific states west of the Rockies, rose for the 11th consecutive month. The 3.1 percent year-over-year gain brought 232,076 U.S. West visitors to Hawaii in September. Spending by these visitors rose 13.2 percent from September of 2011 to $344.3 million.

After 12 months of increases, U.S. East arrivals fell a scant 1.9 percent to 109,922 visitors in September 2012. However, the U.S. East visitors spent 6.7 percent more than their counterparts last year, taking total spending from this market to $232.8 million.

Arrivals from Japan, Hawaii's top international market, grew 9 percent to 133,958 visitors. Spending increased to $253.5 million, a 12.2 percent gain from September 2011.

Arrivals from all other markets, which include emerging markets like China, Korea, Taiwan, Latin America and Europe, grew 19.7 percent to 88,168 visitors. Total spending from these developing markets grew 40.4 percent to $214.8 million.

"It was a typical fall statewide," said Keith Vieira, senior vice president and director of operations for Starwood Hotels & Resorts in Hawaii and French Polynesia. "Oahu, especially Waikiki, has done well. Maui and the Big Island have done better, but they are no where near as strong as Oahu."

More airlift, especially from secondary cities, helped, Vieira said.

Total air seats in September increased to 809,602, which was a 10.4 percent rise from the same month in 2011.

"One concern is that there are still plenty of seats at competitive prices," Vieira said. "It's good that people have greater availability at lower prices. But, the bad news is that we've still got seats. My guess is that there is a little less demand and a little more inventory.We'll have to see how it plays out."

Vieira said Superstorm Sandy and the election could also impact travel plans.

"Some people will wait and see before they book," he said

Still, it's been a good year so far. Year to date, total visitor arrivals grew 9.6 percent to 5.97 million.

"As we head into the fourth quarter, we anticipate the momentum to continue with increases in airlift thanks to new routes by Hawaiian Airlines from Sapporo and Brisbane, Allegiant Airlines from the West Coast, and Jetstar from Melbourne," McCartney said. "These new routes are all servicing secondary cities, which will provide greater ease of access for visitors to come to the Hawaiian Islands. Festivals and events, including the Jazz Festival and Diamond Head Classic, will also help to draw visitors this quarter."

Judging by the number of bodies on Waikiki beaches on Monday, Hawaii's fourth quarter got off to a good start.

Curtis Olliffe of Vancouver and about 40 teammates and friends were here for the 22nd Annual Hawaii Lacrosse Invitational, held Oct. 26-28, and a wedding.

Olliffe, who plans to wed Crystal Yen on Saturday, said Hawaii seemed like a natural nuptial choice.

"This is my seventh time here and I love it," he said. "Hopefully, we'll be back again."

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