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Hawaii's Tourism Industry Anticipates a Healthy Summer Based on Recent Momentum

With an Average Hotel Occupancy Rate Above 80%, March was the 23rd Consecutive
Month of Increased Spending and the Seventh Consecutive Month of Increased Arrivals

By Allison Schaefers, The Honolulu Star-AdvertiserMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News

April 27, 2012--Riding on three months of strong momentum, Hawaii's tourism industry is already anticipating a healthy summer.

Total visitor spending rose 16.9 percent and total arrivals were up by 12.9 percent last month, according to data from the Hawaii Tourism Authority Thursday. About 714,973 visitors came to Hawaii last month and spent $1.17 billion, or about $177 per person per day, which equaled about $10 more per day than in March 2011. March marked the 23rd consecutive month of increased spending and the seventh consecutive month of more arrivals.

Most hotels averaged occupancy in the high 80 percent level, said Barry Wallace, executive vice president of hospitality services for Outrigger Enterprises Group.

"We had all anticipated that March was going to be a softer month, but it was as strong as February," he said.

The visitor industry numbers, which reflect more confidence from U.S. consumers and a rebound from Japan's March 11, 2011, earthquake and tsunami, are inspiring tourism leaders to make the kind of projections that they were loath to do only a few turbulent months ago when the state still was reeling from the tragedy in Japan and lingering economic uncertainty.

"We're really very optimistic," said Jerry Gibson, area vice president of Hilton Hawaii and general manager of the Hilton Hawaiian Village Resort & Spa. "Our domestic business is doing rather well, and we think that it's going to hold. We are forecasting a particularly strong ... June, July and August."

It was a good sign that tourists from Hawaii's core U.S. West market rose 11.4 percent to 264,956 in March, Gibson said. Likewise, arrivals from the U.S. East, a higher-spending domestic market, rose by 2.2 percent to 162,931.

Arrivals from Japan, the largest international market, increased 27 percent in March to 114,055, while arrivals from Canada, a growing international segment, jumped by 6.6 percent last month to 72,882.

In March, cruise ship visitors rose by 7.6 percent to 19,173 arrivals. The state also saw 80,976 visitors from all other markets, a category that includes the burgeoning Korea and China segments as well as Oceania, Europe and South America.

The 34.8 percent gain in this category was part of Hawaii's diversification push to pick up more first-time visitors.

Spending growth, which in recent years has been fueled mostly by international buyers, was also spread throughout the markets in March. Spending by the core of U.S. West visitors rose 16.9 percent to $364 million. While spending by visitors from the U.S. East dropped by 0.7 percent, visitors from all other areas spent more than they did during the same month last year.

"We're living it up," said Meredith Nonnenberg, who was vacationing at the Sheraton Waikiki with husband Randy and 2-year-old son Ray on Wednesday. "There's so much to do here for adults and for kids his age."

In addition to the free stuff like frolicking at Waikiki Beach, the family shopped at Ala Moana Center and dined out at Duke's and Hula Grill, Nonnenberg said.

While arrivals might flatten during the April and May shoulder months, the industry is expecting a strong late May and June, said HTA President and CEO Mike McCartney.

New flights from New York; Washington. D.C.; Fresno, Calif.; and Las Vegas, and the start of increased summer travel in June will augment industry performance, McCartney predicted.

Growth from markets like Korea and China also have untapped potential in part because of Hawaii's strategic location, he said.

"We hope to continue to build upon the momentum we've established and further boost Hawaii's economy with growth from this region," McCartney said.


(c)2012 The Honolulu Star-Advertiser

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