Thousands of University of Southern California Trojans fans will bring the state’s visitor industry one last boost of momentum before the peak summer season turns into a softer fall.
About 5,000 USC fans are expected to travel to the isles between Monday and Sept. 7 to watch Thursday’s season opener, which will pit 14th-ranked Southern California against University of Hawaii, said USC spokesman James Grant.
"It’s a very important game for us, and Hawaii is a popular destination," Grant said, adding that most fans will bring friends and family.
UH has allotted about 7,500 tickets to Trojan fans.
Overall, UH is projecting a crowd of 43,000 to 45,000 in 50,000-seat Aloha Stadium. Although ticket sales were still under 40,000 yesterday, members of the tourism industry said traveler turnout is exceeding expectations.
"This is one of the larger sporting events that we’ve seen in the last five years," said Jack E. Richards, president and chief executive officer of Pleasant Holidays, the game’s travel agency. "USC has a very loyal fan base, and Hawaii is definitely a draw for them."
The game was a sellout in 1999 and in 2005, said Derek Inouchi, UH’s media relations director.
"Right now, ticket sales have been moving along," Inouchi said. "We hope it gets to be a sellout."
The game’s slot is not as advantageous as a Saturday night contest; however, sporting officials hope that the "quality of the opponent" and the game being a season opener will counter the scheduling, said John McNamara, UH’s associate athletic director for external affairs.
"We have seen good response to ticket sales from the Trojan faithful," McNamara said.
The marquee home game was almost canceled after USC was sanctioned in June for athletic program violations, but the NCAA agreed to delay the penalty. Now some speculate that USC fans have elevated the game to "bowl" status.
"The variable for us is game day," McNamara said.
Some fans might be deterred from attending the game since they can watch it on ESPN, and others may balk at its Thursday rush-hour time, said Keith Vieira, senior vice president and director of operations for Starwood in Hawaii and French Polynesia. However, those making the trek are taking advantage of Labor Day to stay longer, he said.
"All of our hotels, even those on other islands, are benefiting from the game," Vieira said.
The event has sold out rooms at several Waikiki hotels, said Richards, who declined to provide actual numbers.
Fans, most of whom will be here five or more days, are mainly staying at the Waikiki Beach Marriott, the Royal Hawaiian, the Westin Moana Surfrider and the Sheraton Waikiki, he said.
"We’ve also had to open up room blocks at other hotels," Richards said.
Even nonhost hotels like the Hyatt Regency Waikiki Beach Resort & Spa expect increases during what is typically a slower time for the visitor industry.
This game and others will "provide an additional boost to recovering business levels throughout the fall," said Brad Mettler, the property’s director of sales and marketing.