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Count tops 211,000

By Harry Eagar WAILUKU, Maui (The Maui News, Sept. 1, 2010) - For the first time in a long time in Maui, the monthly visitor count topped 200,000 in July, according to statistics released Tuesday by the Hawaii Tourism Authority.

Pushed up by big gains from secondary markets and a good gain from the prime western market, Maui island recorded 211,477 visitors, up 11.5 percent. Lanai visitors were 13.9 percent more to 6,250, and Molokai visitors rose 5.8 percent to 4,905.

Maui visitors from Canada were up 22.3 percent to 10,282, although Canadian visitors to Lanai and Molokai fell in the double digits. Their numbers make up less than 10 percent of those staying on the Valley Isle. Visitors from the eastern states rose 10.4 percent to 66,049 for Maui, while Molokai and Lanai also saw increases from that market. In total in July, Maui County saw nearly 70,000 visitors from the East Coast.

The U.S. West sector was up a healthy 8.1 percent and provided half of all visitors to the county - 112,218.

Although the yen has been rising to record heights against the dollar, which is supposed to be helpful for the visitor industry, Japanese business was dull. The head count from Japan to Maui County was up 3 percent to 5,344, although the total of visitor-days was flat. Maui's share of Japanese business has long been in decline.

In contrast, Japanese visits to Oahu were up 7.1 percent and topped 100,000 in July. The Big Island, which does have direct flights, enjoyed a 25.3 percent rise in Japanese visitors (plus 42 percent in visitor-days), although, while Japanese make up nearly one quarter of Oahu visitors, they are less than 10 percent of Big Island tourists. Japanese make up less than 3 percent of Maui visitors.

Maui Visitors Bureau Executive Director Terryl Vencl said several things are damping down Japanese tourism here. "No direct flights are a large part of it," she said.

"Back in the days when we were really strong with Japan, you could get (interisland) coupons. That made it much easier to visit us," she said.

Now, a traveler from Japan has to buy an extra leg, and, since family travel from Japan has also increased, "that's US$120 times four," said Vencl. "It becomes more expensive to visit."

The upturn in the visitor industry that had been predicted by, among others, the University of Hawaii Economic Research Organization, appeared to be taking hold. The Hawaii Tourism Authority reported that total spending in July was up 23.3 percent, measured against the depressed July 2009, to US$1.1 billion.

Total spending for the year to date reached US$6.4 billion, up 10.2 percent.

For Maui Island, spending was up 14.2 percent in July, to US$295 million. On Molokai, visitors spent US$2.9 million in the month, up 22.9 percent, and on Lanai, spending was reported at US$7.4 million, up 24.8 percent.

Marsha Wienert, the state tourism liaison, said the gains in visitor numbers are expected to continue when August's totals are collected.

"July marked the eighth month of positive growth in visitor arrivals, which is welcome news to everyone," she said. Wienert credited "attractive pricing and value-added packages" for spurring tourism, but visitors are spending more money per day - US$168 compared with US$152 a year ago.

In June, 13.6 percent more people visited the islands.

On Maui, per visitor per day spending in July was up 14.2 percent to US$179.40. On Molokai, it was up 5.3 percent to US$135.40. And on Lanai, it was down 4.3 percent to US$315.60.

On a percentage basis, Lanai visits in July were up even more than Maui's, by 13.9 percent to 6,250. Molokai visits were up 5.8 percent to 4,905.

Oahu was up 8.4 percent to 421,573. The Big Island was up 7.6 percent to 127,550. Kauai was up 6.4 percent to 101,535.

For the whole state, July arrivals reached 680,743, up 9 percent. (All by air, there were no arrivals by ship.)

The Hawaii Tourism Authority said large conventions and military exercises helped Hawaii draw more visitors in July. Major conventions like the Baptist World Congress helped bring visitors to the islands. So did the world's largest maritime exercises - the Rim of the Pacific drills - which attracted participants from 14 nations.

The Maui Visitors Bureau has yearned for years to get more eastern U.S. visitors, but lack of air service, higher ticket prices and a long flight have been obstacles. In July, however, a surging eastern states market delivered seven tourists for every 10 from the western states.

"We still need to work on the east," Vencl said. "I would like to see a little better balance even. That's a place where we need to put some effort."

More travelers and increased tourist spending are expected to gradually help Hawaii's economy recover, said Wienert, citing a state government economic forecast issued two weeks ago.

''After two years of decline, businesses throughout the state are encouraged by the improvements in the visitor industry,'' Wienert said.

Still, she said visitor spending isn't likely to rebound to 2007 peak levels for another three years.

The number of travelers to Hawaii from U.S. Mainland, Japan and Canada all increased in July.

Hawaii Tourism Authority President Mike McCartney said the addition of more direct flights from the U.S. West Coast to the Neighbor Islands have helped foster a ''healthier distribution'' of tourists to all islands.

The number of Japanese tourists continued to rebound from low levels reached during last year's H1N1 ''swine flu'' scare, climbing 8 percent in July.

McCartney said he hopes a stronger yen will convince even more Japanese to visit.

''Arrivals and spending from Japan continue to remain strong, but are still below 2007 and 2006 levels,'' McCartney said.

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