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Surging visitors tote ‘optimism’

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    Brothers Cole LaFont, 13, and twins Kyle and Dane, who are almost 16, constructed a sand castle yesterday at Kuhio Beach Park in Waikiki. The boys were visiting with their family from Littleton, Colo.
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    Soluna Terrill, 3, peeked out from the edge of the Aston Waikiki Beach Hotel pool yesterday. Soluna was celebrating her birthday with her family, who were visiting from Portland, Ore.

Double-digit increases in arrivals and spending last month have made summer hotter for Hawaii tourism, though it still lacks the sizzle it had a few years ago.

Monthly visitor arrivals rose 13.6 percent to 625,522 visitors in June and spending rose 16.1 percent to $948.9 million. The year-over-year comparisons look strong in part because last summer arrivals were down amid the H1N1, or swine flu, scare.

Still, the double-digit gains boosted the confidence of Hawaii’s visitor industry and represent some recovery from the 2008-2009 downturn that was marked by a 22 percent drop in visitor spending and 17 months of decreased arrivals.

"There’s a certain aura of optimism, but we aren’t cocky yet," said Brad Mettler, marketing director for the Hyatt Regency Waikiki Beach Resort & Spa. "If there is a recovery out there, and we believe signs are pointing to that fact, June was the first month that we truly saw it."

The HTA reported that arrivals from Japan rose a staggering 47.8 percent from June 2009, which was hampered by H1N1. They also rose in all other major markets, including a 10.1 percent increase in visitor traffic from the U.S. East, a 7.8 percent increase from Canada and 7.3 percent from the U.S. West.

All islands experienced heavier visitor traffic and spending. Oahu topped the list with an increase of 18.3 percent in arrivals and 21.1 percent in spending.

For the first half of the year, statewide arrivals were up 5.7 percent at 3.4 million visitors and spending rose 7.8 percent to $5.3 billion.

"Although we still have a ways to go to make up for what has been lost during these challenging economic times, our visitor industry is on the right path and there is reason for increased confidence in Hawaii’s economic recovery," said state tourism liaison Marsha Wienert.

Increased air access, which meant visitors had plenty of convenient flights and that they were priced competitively, was another boon for Hawaii’s visitor industry last month, said Mike McCartney, president and chief executive officer of the Hawaii Tourism Authority.


The number of visitors arriving in
Hawaii by air in June with the
percentage change from the
same month last year:

Domestic 483,644 +8.9%
International 141,878 +33.5%
Totals* 625,522 +13.6%
Oahu 390,206 +18.3%
Kauai 92,845 +5.8%
Lanai 5,837 +7.8%
Maui 186,849 +5.9%
Molokai 4,208 +17.4%
Big Island 116,254 +8.9%
* There were no ship arrivals in June
Source: Hawaii Tourism Authority

"Airlift is our tourism industry lifeline and remains a top priority for HTA," he said. "Our success with increasing air access has resulted in a spike in total statewide air seats of 6.6 percent, with all the neighbor islands experiencing air seat increases, as well as double-digit visitor spending increases over the same period last year."

McCartney said that the new airlift from multiple airlines — Continental, Alaska, Hawaiian and Delta — is encouraging. It’s a positive sign for the highly dependent tourism economies on the neighbor islands, he said.

The planes were also coming in with more seats filled than last year. The load factor in June was 95.3 percent, up from 88.3 percent a year ago.

McCartney said HTA will continue to focus on Asia as a growth region, increasing meetings and convention business and driving more demand to the neighbor islands.

"We are expecting Hawaii’s summer season to continue to outpace last year," Wienert said.

Hawaii’s hoteliers are benefiting from strengthening consumer confidence, improved group business and higher occupancies, Mettler said.

"Rates are higher this summer than last," he said.

But visitors like Dawn Terrill, who extended a business trip by five days to take a family vacation in Hawaii, say there still are great bargains.

"It’s kind of a myth that Hawaii is so expensive," said Terrill, who lives in Portland, Ore.

Although July is one of Hawaii’s peak travel months, Terrill said she booked an oceanfront room at the Aston Waikiki Beach for $195 a night including breakfast.

"We based our choice on price and proximity to the ocean," she said. "Their kids-eat-free breakfast special also added up to a huge savings."

Prices were reasonable enough that Bret LaFonte, his wife, Gayle, and four teenagers elected to spend five days on Oahu prior to their cruise on NCL’s Pride of America.

The Littleton, Colo., couple worked on getting a time share week a year in advance of the reunion in Hawaii, which also brought 19 other family members to take an isle cruise to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Gayle’s parents, Ray and Dorothy Holzkamp.

While cruising during peak season was not exactly a bargain, LaFonte said that the price "wasn’t horrible, considering it’s mostly all inclusive and the teenagers can eat to their heart s’ content."

Anyway, the trip was more about making memories than saving money, LaFonte said.

"We’ll learn how to surf, swim with the dolphins and see the lava flows by night," LaFonte said. "My wife and I haven’t been back to Hawaii since we honeymooned here 20 years ago and we wanted to share it with our family."

Regardless of the occasion, many travelers are taking advantage of relatively low airfares, hotel rates below 2008 levels and value-added offers like free breakfasts or parking or other amenities that sweeten hotel room purchases.

"Value-adds are not going to leave the market anytime soon," said the Hyatt Regency’s Mettler. "Hopefully, we’ll see a return to mid-2000 pricing in three or four years."


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