|By Erika Engle, The Honolulu
Star-AdvertiserMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Dec. 29, 2010--Visitor spending in Hawaii jumped more than 30 percent in November to $976 million, reflecting double-digit increases on all islands for the third consecutive month, according to figures released by the Hawaii Tourism Authority yesterday.
For the first 11 months of the year, visitor spending totaled $10.3 billion, surpassing the $10 million spent by visitors for all of 2009.
A total of 577,540 visitors traveled to Hawaii by air and ship in November, up 18.2 percent over last November. The percentage increase was the largest of the year, with each island except Molokai seeing double-digit increases over a year earlier. The 6.5 million visitor arrivals year-to-date represent an 8.6 percent increase over the same period a year earlier.
"This is actually one of the best year-over-year (performances) we've had in a long time. It's a very good sign," said David Carey, president and chief executive officer of Outrigger Enterprises Group.
The rising numbers point toward continued recovery for the state's chief economic engine as freezing temperatures hit the Midwest and Northeast, and New Yorkers dig out from under several feet of snow. Also helping the unofficial marketing effort is President Barack Obama, pictured in news reports around the globe vacationing in Hawaii eating man-made snow doused in sweet, colorful island flavors.
A CNN reporter here to cover Obama was seen on the network taking a hula lesson on a hotel lawn. Although it was less than idyllic Hawaii weather, he was wearing an aloha shirt and shorts, not the heavy garb under which many potential visitors find themselves at this time of year.
"It's an intuitive thing, but I think every one of those messages helps," said Carey.
After six to eight weeks of a cold winter on the mainland, "the pretty stuff on TV, it almost always helps, (though) it's hard to measure," he said. "It certainly creates the buzz among people about traveling."
The rain pummeling the islands in recent days isn't a visitor's ideal. But as Carey told a mainland colleague, "Yesterday it was raining but I still walked the dog. Can you do that?"
November's visitor report shows that the HTA's "tactical marketing to North America has really paid off," Carey said, adding that "the currency situation has helped us from Japan, and we have an increasing supply of air seats," numbers that will rise with new routes launching in the coming year. The number of airline seats to Hawaii is "within inches of being close to where we were before ATA and Aloha closed down," he said.
November arrivals were up 28.2 percent from Canada, 23 percent from the U.S. West, 18.1 percent from the U.S. East and 3.3 percent from Japan. Visitor arrivals by cruise ship shot up 43.5 percent to 16,952.
Discounts that have driven arrivals and hotel occupancy rates in recent months can squeeze a hotel's margins. But with many of those discounts dropped for the high-demand holiday season, the "squeeze" is easing, said Keith Vieira, senior vice president and director of operations for Starwood Hotels & Resorts in Hawaii and French Polynesia.
"One month does not make a year ... (but) we are gaining some traction, and that gives you a feeling we are on our way to getting some rate growth over 2011."
Hotels in New York can raise rates "every Tuesday" because "people are going to be there on business and they have to pay, but nobody has to come to Hawaii, so we have to have strong demand in order to get rates up," Vieira said.
Future bookings at the hotel group are up year-over-year despite slightly higher rates, and while "it is still too early to tell, these are positive signs."
This week is "the best week of the year" for Outrigger, Carey said, with families on vacation for the Christmas and New Year's holidays. Nevertheless it is difficult to say whether December's monthly figures will be as robust as November's, he said.
Despite the big monthly increases, Hawaii's visitor industry is still below the peak of three years ago when the arrivals and spending highs were 7.4 million and $12.8 billion, respectively.
Still, Hawaii's rate of recovery is well ahead of top competitors including Mexico and the Caribbean, according to Mike McCartney, authority president and chief executive officer.
However, an HTA staff analysis shows that "Hawaii is only beginning to see signs of recovery, and we still have a long way to go to offset the declines over the last two years."
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