Hawaii tourism will simultaneously set year-end arrivals and spending records for the first time since 2006 if the state’s visitor industry stays on pace.
State tourism officials have forecast that arrivals will grow to a record 7.8 million and visitor spending will hit a record $13.9 million by year’s end. These targets would surpass previous records set in 2006 when the state welcomed 7.628 million visitors, who spent what at that time was a record $12.4 billion. In 2007, visitor spending set another record at $12.8 billion.
Diversification and strategies aimed at bolstering neighbor island business have strengthened Hawaii tourism, said David Uchiyama, vice president of brand management for the Hawai‘i Tourism Authority.
"We are even healthier than we were during the last boom," Uchiyama said. "We’ve made great strides in closing the gap left when NCL pulled two ships from the market."
Since the additional ships accounted for some 380,000 arrivals annually, Hawaii’s visitor industry had to vary its market to fill the void, he said.
"We’ve diversified a lot more into markets (outside of the U.S. and Japan)," Uchiyama said. "Another huge part of the industry’s progress is the ability to distribute our visitors directly into the neighbor islands."
Arrivals and spending for the first five months of the year certainly are tracking with anticipated trends. Through May the HTA reported that visitor arrivals were up by 10 percent to 3.3 million, while spending was ahead by 16.8 percent at $5.8 billion.
Strong visitor arrivals have continued into summer. The three-week trip that Vincent Ary and his family made to Hawaii is proof that the HTA’s strategies to spread tourism across all islands are paying off.
The Ary ohana of Pasadena, Calif., visited Oahu, Kauai and the Kona side of Hawaii island during their lengthy stay in the isles.
"We came six years ago, and we’ve been coming back twice a year ever since," said Ary, who works the lights for the hit TV show "NCIS."
"It was a perfect trip," Ary said. "In Hawaii you are frozen in time. We like that there’s no real urgency and you are able to let hair down."
The family already is planning a return trip, he said.
"We’re coming back this Thanksgiving," Ary said.
Since tourists like the Ary ohana are projected to keep coming to Hawaii, economists at the University of Hawaii Economic Research Organization might increase the 2012 year-end tourism forecast they released in May.
Given the continued boom in scheduled air seats through the summer and the fairly aggressive pricing on flights this fall, UHERO’s arrivals forecast will likely increase, said Carl Bonham, UHERO director.
Bonham expects the revised forecast will estimate arrivals growth of more than 7 percent and spending of more than 12.7 percent.
Still, the state’s overall economy is waiting for the boom to spread, he said.
"While we may be raising our visitor forecast next quarter, the rest of the economy is still producing fairly unimpressive growth," Bonham wrote in his blog. "The last jobs report was decidedly mixed and the latest data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis is nothing to celebrate."
While improved tourism has put Waikiki hotels on track for a record year, recovery has not spread to all sectors, said Joseph Toy, president and chief executive office of Hospitality Advisors LLC.
If Waikiki hotels continue their momentum, the resort district could set records in occupancy, average daily rate and revenue per available room, according to the most recent data from Smith Travel Research and Hospitality Advisors.
"While Oahu is doing real well in terms of occupancy, its still behind in room rates in real terms," Toy said. "We are seeing some strength in Maui since Wailea is having a good summer, but Kauai and the Big Island are lagging."
Toy said it could be 2013 or 2014 before the hotel industry has recovered across all islands.
"Still, you can see the strength of where the market appears to be heading," he said.