|By Allison Schaefers, The Honolulu
Star-AdvertiserMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News
June 29, 2011--Hawaii's visitor industry continued rebounding in May, and the momentum is expected to build through summer.
Although total visitor arrivals remained essentially flat in May due to the continued drop in Japan arrivals, total visitor spending grew 5.9 percent, the Hawaii Tourism Authority said Tuesday. The $50.9 million gain from May 2010 was the 13th consecutive month of increased visitor spending, HTA officials said. The 553,505 visitors that came to Hawaii in May spent a total of $912.3 million. Average daily spending rose by $10 to $185 a day.
The numbers show that the industry is regaining strength in 2011, said Mike McCartney, HTA president and chief executive.
"We anticipate activity to remain strong through the second half of the year, with increased airlift out of Asia and Oceania, and the establishment of the China Eastern Airlines service from Honolulu to Shanghai beginning in August," McCartney said. "Our goal is to build on this momentum so that tourism can continue to drive Hawaii's economic recovery."
While continued effects from the March 11 earthquake and tsunami in Japan depressed tourism in the second quarter, numbers from elsewhere were not as bad as anticipated, said Shari Chang, senior vice president of marketing and revenue management at Aston Hotels & Resorts.
In May, arrivals from Canada grew 19 percent helping to offset a 17.1 percent drop from Japan and minimal gains from other markets, according to the HTA. Arrivals from Hawaii's core U.S. West market grew 0.8 percent, while arrivals from the U.S. East rose 1.8 percent.
For the first five months of the year, overall visitor spending was up 15.3 percent to $5 billion, and total arrivals grew by 6.7 percent to about 2.96 million visitors, HTA reported.
"Most of us are cautiously optimistic," Chang said. "Moving into summer, we were concerned about gas and oil prices. But those seemed to have settled, and customers are adapting."
Elaine and Doug Walker, who were walking Waikiki Beach on Tuesday with their 4-year-old daughter, Elise, said that they used airline points to offset higher fares to Honolulu. They also flew from Bellingham, Wash., instead of Seattle, Elaine Walker said.
"They added a new nonstop and offered fares that were about $160 cheaper," Elaine Walker said. "It pays to shop around."
Travelers responded strongly to discount summer specials launched in April and May by Pleasant Holidays LLC, Hawaii's largest wholesaler.
"June was up by double digits," said Jack Richards, Pleasant's president and CEO. He said he expects July will see the same increase.
In the next day or so, Pleasant will launch specials for August travel, which is coming in slow, Richards said.
"These are probably going to be the best Hawaii prices of the year," he said.
Summer travelers will have their pick of hotel values, especially in Waikiki and in Kona, said Barry Wallace, executive vice president of hospitality services for Outrigger Enterprises.
While hoteliers have enjoyed some summer rate growth, Wallace said the five or so large group properties in Waikiki that lost the most Japanese business are offering specials, hindering rate growth at other properties. Some Kona hotels are still recovering from the loss of Japan Airlines flights, he said.
"Most years, if you waited until now to book Hawaii, you'd have a hard time," Wallace. "This year, you'll not only get a room, but chances are that you'll get a great rate, too."
None of the hotels are discount crazy like they were at the bottom of the market; however, travelers still can come away with a deal, Chang said.
"There are some really strong packages out there," she said. "Hotels don't want to advertise really low rates, so they'll fold them into opaque channels like Priceline where it's harder for consumers to see them."
Reasonable rates encouraged the Mickels family of Fort Worth, Texas, to book a long-awaited Oahu trip, said Kim Mickels, who was sunbathing Tuesday as her children enjoyed Waikiki's sand and surf.
"We've been wanting to come for about 10 years," Mickels said. "We thought prices were very reasonable."
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