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Hawaii saw more visitor arrivals and tourism spending in August than last year

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Total visitor arrivals and spending rose again statewide in August, which was only the third month both categories have been up since November.

Tourists spent $1.5 billion, up more than 6% from August 2018, according to preliminary statistics released today by the Hawaii Tourism Authority. August spending growth was outpaced by the year-over-year gain in visitor arrivals, which rose nearly 10% to 928,178. Part of the reason that monthly gains were so robust is that they are being compared to last August when Hurricane Lane and the heightened eruption at Kilauea Volcano took a toll on tourism.

The monthly results were mixed across the islands. In general, monthly spending and arrivals rose for North America, but international markets posted declines.

The spending increase still wasn’t quite high enough in August to break the year-to-date trend of more visitors coming to Hawaii and spending less while they are here. Despite some August gains, spending through the first eight months of the year dropped a half percent to nearly $12.1 billion. Year-to-date visitor arrivals to Hawaii increased more than 5% to more than 7.1 million.

Until the past three months, arrivals had been growing since February 2017, but tourism spending had been falling for seven months. That’s the opposite of HTA’s goal, which now favors visitor experience, resident sentiment and spending over tourism arrivals. After all, tourism and government officials alike have learned that visitors are happiest when residents are satisfied.

There are many theories about why spending has mostly been declining. One is that push back from residents about overtourism has led a new emphasis on tourism management over tourism marketing. The new paradigm is so important that the Hawaii Convention and Visitors Bureau in partnership with HTA and county governments are now involved in managing the post-arrival visitor experience through a campaign called “Kuleana,” named for the Hawaiian word for responsibility.

Another theory is that the mix of arrivals to Hawaii is skewed toward domestic visitors, which tend to spend far less than their international counterparts.

Some also have theorized that the previously unchecked proliferation of illegal vacation rentals had put downward pressure on lodging pricing and attracted a more intrepid and frugal visitor, who tended to prioritize experiences and authenticity over the things they could buy. However, economists have warned that recent crackdowns on illegal vacation rentals could cause tourism softening because of the corresponding reduction in tourism lodging.

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