Optimism is rising in Hawaii’s visitor industry, which saw arrivals and spending rise again from every major market on all islands in August.
August followed July as the second consecutive month in which all tourism measures were up, according to the Hawaii Tourism Authority, which released visitor statistics yesterday. Prior to July the state hadn’t had a month with all indicators up since September 2005.
Hawaii’s visitor industry continued to rebound in August with 680,496 tourists coming to the state, up 11.8 percent from August 2009, HTA reported. Strong arrivals growth helped push total visitor expenditures up 30 percent to $1.1 billion, the most August visitors have spent since 2007. Average daily visitor spending rose to $172 per person from $153 per person a year ago.
Air arrivals from Hawaii’s core U.S. West market rose 13.6 percent. Arrivals from the U.S. East climbed 8.8 percent, arrivals from Canada rose 24.7 percent and arrivals from Japan increased 1.9 percent, the HTA said. Total expenditures for the first eight months of 2010 increased by 12.7 percent to $7.5 billion, and total arrivals rose 7 percent to 4.7 million.
But, hold off on the happy dance. It’s still too soon to say that Hawaii’s visitor industry has recovered, said Keith Vieira, senior vice president and director of operations for Starwood Hotels & Resorts in Hawaii and French Polynesia.
"The fact that people are choosing Hawaii is good, but the challenge that we face is that the values in the market are not sustainable," Vieira said.
A positive summer is just a sign that the visitor industry is meeting expectations, he said.
The number of visitors arriving in Hawaii by air in August with the percentage change from the same month last year:
Source: Hawaii Tourism Authority
"If you are not strong in the summer, you have big problems," Vieira said. "Now we have to work on maintaining arrivals and increasing visitor spending."
If nothing else, a positive summer is the best indicator that Hawaii’s visitor industry and dependent businesses could finish the year in the black, said state Tourism Liaison Marsha Wienert.
"Summer business for the visitor industry is like the holidays are for retailers," Wienert said. "It can make or break them."
Some August visitor growth is due to the fans and alumni who came for the University of Southern California vs. University of Hawaii football game on Sept. 2, Wienert said. The Baptist World Congress, held July 27-Aug. 3, also helped bump up convention, meeting and incentive (CMI) travelers by 23.5 percent from a year ago, said Mike McCartney, HTA president and chief executive officer.
Hawaii tourism officials anticipate continued growth in arrivals and spending this fall over last year, McCartney said.
"Interest in our state as a prime destination for CMI meetings will continue to build as we prepare to host the 2011 APEC Leaders Meeting," he said.
State tourism also will benefit from increases in arrivals from Australia, New Zealand and Canada; new air service from Haneda, Japan; and from marketing in the Pacific Northwest and North America, he said.
While pleased with summer results, most hoteliers remain cautious about the fall. At Castle Hotels & Resorts, demand dropped off after Labor Day, said Alan Mattson, the company’s president and chief operating officer. The conventions that buoyed business last year were not replaced for this fall, Mattson said.
The monthly total arrivals and percentage change in visitors to Hawaii:
"Having said this, however, when looking at all 24 of our Hawaii properties, in aggregate we are doing better than (the) prior year for this fall," he said.
The problem Castle and other hoteliers face is that while room demand is improving, visitors still are not willing to spend more for their rooms, and discounts remain in the marketplace.
That was true of the Hutchinson, Cox and Nolan families of Sydney, who were among the many fall travelers yesterday on Waikiki Beach. The 10-member group planned to spend their vacation enjoying the state’s famous sun, sand and surf and taking advantage of increased buying power.
"Our dollar hit 97 yesterday," said Cherie Nolan. "We’re nearly dollar for dollar."
Strong values also prompted Vanessa Blanco and Jose Andrade of San Jose, Calif., to make their first trip to Oahu.
"Hawaii was the best destination that we looked at," Andrade said. "We wanted a vacation from working. We wanted to go somewhere we could relax and see nice, clean, blue water."
But if some of summer’s momentum moves into fall, hoteliers and other facets of Hawaii’s visitor industry will gradually raise prices, Wienert said.
All the signs are there that visitor demand to the Hawaiian Islands is going to start growing, Mattson said.
"We are on the path of recovery; although slow and gradual, demand is starting to return, and there are positive growth indicators that are very encouraging, such as the strong arrivals from the International markets, new routes and increased air seat capacity to the islands, early signs of recovery in the meetings/ convention market for 2011 and beyond," he said.
But if recovery means Hawaii tourism indicators must return to 2006 levels, that will take another three to four years, Mattson said.