Hawaii could be back to 7 million visitors by the end of next year, and the next few months aren’t looking too bad, either.
That was the opinion of Carl Bonham, director of the University of Hawaii Economic Research Organization (UHERO), who participated in a Hawaii visitor industry leaders panel discussion at the Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) 2010 Tourism Conference, which drew about 400 to the Hawai’i Convention Center yesterday.
"We’re beyond where anybody expected us to be at this time, and there is still reason for optimism going on into the fall," Bonham said, adding that he expects Hawaii will finish this year 6 percent ahead of last year in arrivals and that there will be greater growth in visitor spending.
By the end of 2011, Bonham anticipates Hawaii arrivals to return to numbers not seen since 2005, 2006 and 2007. Arrivals broke the 7-million benchmark in 2005 when they soared to 7.5 million. They peaked at 7.628 million arrivals in 2006 and nearly hit the mark again in 2007 when arrivals totaled 7.627 million, but they fell to 6.8 million in 2008.
While others in Hawaii’s visitor industry are reluctant to forecast recovery, it was clear from the discussion at most of the sessions yesterday that the destination has begun emerging from the severe downturn of the last two years.
Hawaii’s visitor industry saw spending revenues decline 22 percent during the last two years as it weathered the exit of Aloha and ATA airlines as well as the global financial crisis and the shadow left by H1N1, said Mike McCartney, HTA president and chief executive office.
Visitors spent $35.5 million per day in 2007, but that number dropped to $30.6 million per day in 2008 and fell to $27 million by 2009, McCartney said. Finally, after two years of decline, that number is forecast to come back to $29 million by year’s end for a total of $12.6 billion in annual visitor spending, he said. If Hawaii’s visitor industry works together and stays focused on the HTA’s conference theme, "Ao ka Po," which means a new beginning, there will be opportunities for growth in 2011 and beyond, McCartney said.
ON THE REBOUND
Annual visitor arrivals to Hawaii and the percent change from the previous year:
* Includes air and ship arrivals
Hawaii Tourism Authority
"Now more than ever, we owe it to the people of Hawaii and our future generations to emerge from tough times, stronger, wiser and more committed to doing what’s necessary to ensure a vital and sustainable tourism economy," he said.
Based on airlift, UHERO’s Bonham said he expects the shoulder season — September, October and November — will be better than anticipated.
"We are still seeing an enormous amount of lift coming into Hawaii, and you either fill the planes, discount them or pull out of the market," he said.
While Marriott International Inc. was pleased with its Hawaii results in July and August, it’s too soon to determine how the upcoming fall shoulder season will fare, said Chris Tatum, the company’s area vice president for North Asia, Hawaii and the South Pacific.
"We’re looking at some pretty challenging times as we move forward," Tatum said, adding that Marriott is planning a marketing blitz in January in the U.S. West Coast, the Midwest and cities like Dallas.
"Our goal is to get out there and sell the destination," he said. "We’ll do it until our numbers stop dropping."
But getting visitors to Hawaii is only half the battle, said George Kam, the ambassador of aloha for Quiksilver Inc., who delivered a keynote address on the importance of providing tourists with an authentic Hawaiian experience.
"We know we are going through challenging times here with the load factors and the hotels," Kam said. "Tourism has been challenged all over, but there is something really special about this place."
If Hawaii’s visitor industry works together to provide a memorable Hawaii experience to all, the magic of the destination will help combat industry challenges, he said.
"It’s our time to take care and malama everything that we have," Kam said.
Gov. Linda Lingle told the conferees that she’ll probably travel to China in her final months of office to foster relations with tourism and government officials in the fast-developing Asian nation. Lingle, who will leave office in December, said she is committed to getting direct flights between Honolulu and China.