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Spending up on isle activities

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    Capt. Jon Jepson maneuvers the Makani catamaran from its Kewalo Basin berth to its intended sunset cruise in the waters off Waikiki.
    Keri and Steve Whitson take in a glorious sunset from the bow of the Makani catamaran as it sails in the waters off Waikiki. The couple, who are the type of active travelers the state's tourism industry covets, went surfing and paddling during their eight-day stay. They also took a rental car to Oahu's North Shore and sailed on the Makani to see Hilton Hawaiian Village's Friday night fireworks.

It’s been smoother sailing for the Makani catamaran and most all of Hawaii’s activities and attractions since visitor spending has started to come back from the 22 percent decline that it experienced over 2008 and 2009.

Sales dropped 50 percent for the Makani after tourism to Hawaii tanked in 2008, but passengers are returning along with the state’s visitor numbers, said Capt. Jon Jepson, who built the vessel in St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands along with Gold Coast Yachts and brought it to Oahu a year or so before the global economic collapse.

"It was rough for a while. The people who were coming to Hawaii were using all their budget just to get here," Jepson said. "Now it’s slowly coming back."

During the downturn, Hawaii experienced 17 months of decreased visitor arrivals and 24 months of decreased visitor spending, said Mike McCartney, president and chief executive officer of the Hawaii Tourism Authority. Hawaii’s tourism economy has begun to show gains, following seven months of increased visitor arrivals and spending, McCartney said. Visitor arrivals to Hawaii are up 9 percent to 4.1 million through the first seven months of the year, and spending by these visitors is up 10.2 percent to $6.4 billion, he said.

The rebounding tourism market has returned strength to the state’s activities and attractions, said Toni Marie Davis, executive director of the Activities & Attractions Association of Hawaii (A3H).

"There was a little bit of attrition, but for the most part every body is breathing a sigh of relief," Davis said. "The customers that are coming here are opening up their pocketbooks a bit more. Most activities and attractions are doing better."

Pleasant Holidays, Hawaii’s largest travel wholesaler, has reported that the state’s multimillion-dollar activities and attractions industry is up year over year.

"The gain closely correlates with the recovery of visitor arrivals. 2010 has surpassed 2009 and 2011 will be even better," said Jack Richards, Pleasant’s president and chief executive officer.

The Polynesian Cultural Center has been encouraged by what appears to be a return to pre-2009 visitor numbers on Oahu, said Raymond Magalei, PCC marketing director. An evening show and seasonal events have helped Oahu’s No. 1 paid attraction keep admissions level, Magalei said.


Spending beyond the sun, sand and surf:

Ent. and rec. $15.9M $15.4M 3.2% 9.5%
Attractions/ent. $4.4M $4.7M -7.0 % 2.6 %
Recreation $5.7M $5.3M 8.6% 3.4%
Ent. and tours $5.7M $5.4M 6.9% 3.4 %

* January to July
Source: Hawaii Tourism Authority

"Our new evening show, ‘Ha: Breath of Life,’ helped the Polynesian Cultural Center to thrive even in a flat economy," he said. "Since premiering in summer 2009, the $3 million show welcomed more than half a million spectators, many of which were kamaaina returning for repeat performances."

The center is also expecting record numbers for its Haunted Lagoon, which begins its third season Oct. 1, Magalei said.

The USS Missouri Memorial Association is on track to finish the year with a record 400,000 visitors, said Michael Carr, president and chief operating officer of the attraction.

"We are up again even over last year, and last year was really good," Carr said, adding that about 40 percent of the visitors who visited the USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor in June and July also booked a tour to the USS Missouri.

The economy might be down, but if travelers can afford to come to Hawaii, most of them will be able to come up with some spending money for activities, said Keri Whitson, of Oklahoma City, who recently came to Oahu to vacation with her husband, Steve.

"If you can afford to get here, the cost of activities isn’t a huge deterrent," said Whitson, who along with her husband is a repeat visitor to the isles.

During their eight-day stay, the Whitsons went surfing and paddling, took a rental car to the North Shore and sailed on the Makani to see the Hilton Hawaiian Village’s Friday night fireworks by water.

The Whitsons are the kind of active travelers that Hawaii’s visitor industry most wants to attract. This couple and other visitors like them are a key focus of Hawaii’s tourism marketing campaigns, which are designed to attract visitors who will spend more money and stay longer enjoying activities and attractions throughout the isles.

The success or failure of Hawaii’s visitor attractions is crucial because it determines whether the destination is able to attract lots of quality visitors, Carr said.

"It’s not necessarily visitor arrivals that make a destination; it’s expenditures," he said. "How much someone spends after they get here is the reason that destinations succeed or fail."

While activity prices have not returned from the discounting that occurred in 2008 and 2009, visitors have begun to spend more on them again, Richards said.

"We’ve seen about a 5 percent increase," he said. "Since prices are level, that means that visitors are buying up."

Customers are booking better seats, ordering deluxe menus or bringing extra family members, Richards said.

Hawaii visitors spent $15.9 million on entertainment and recreation through July, a 3.2 percent increase from the same period in 2009, according to HTA statistics.

While visitors spent 7 percent less on activities and entertainment, they spent 8.6 percent more on recreation and 6.9 percent more on entertainment and tours, the statistics show.

While recreation and entertainment was about 9.5 percent of personal daily spending by visitors, most of the visitor expenditure growth has been in increased lodging, said Daniel Nahoopii, HTA’s director of tourism research.

But Hawaii’s value proposition goes beyond the cost of the trip, said Lacey Beahm, who brought her husband, Brandon Davis, a first-time traveler to Hawaii, on her third trip to the isles. The Oregon couple said activities separate Hawaii from other sun, sand and surf destinations.

"You can’t just be in the water," Beahm said. "You have to see the people, visit the attractions and experience the culture to learn what Oahu is all about."

During their stay, the couple sailed the Makani and also had plans to visit Hanauma Bay, Dole Plantation and to get up close and personal with the predators of the deep at the shark cages along the North Shore.


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