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Hawaii Still Enjoying Red Hot Streak with Visitor Spending Jumping 17.8% in July

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

Aug. 30, 2012--Judging from the latest state visitor arrival and spending statistics, Hawaii's visitors didn't get the message about low U.S. consumer confidence and economic uncertainty in some parts of the globe.

Hawaii's visitor industry continued to heat up in July, with arrivals and spending gains contributing to what continues to be one of the hottest summers ever. Total visitor spending in July rose 17.8 percent to $1.28 billion, according to statistics released Wednesday by the Hawai'i Tourism Authority. The $193.8 million gain helped push spending during the first seven months of the year to $8.4 billion, an increase of 20.8 percent.

Higher daily spending and 7.8 percent growth in total arrivals were behind the total spending rise. In July, 720,355 visitors came to Hawaii. During the first seven months, arrivals rose 9.8 percent to 4.65 million visitors.

The state welcomed 1,800 more visitors each day and netted an additional $17 per person in daily spending compared with the first seven months of 2011, said HTA President and CEO Mike McCartney.

Year-to-date visitor spending has generated an estimated $915 million in state tax revenues and will help sustain more than 160,000 jobs in 2012, McCartney said.

"Hawaii's tourism economy continues to be on pace for a record year through July," he said. "We anticipate that the momentum from the positive increase in visitor arrivals and spending will continue through the second half of the year."

July arrivals from Hawaii's top U.S. West market grew for the ninth straight month. Arrivals from this core market rose 3.4 percent from July 2011 to 299,072 visitors, and spending grew by 10.3 percent to $436.7 million.

The number of visitors from the U.S. East, Hawaii's second-largest visitor market, remained flat. However, increased daily spending boosted U.S. East total visitor expenditures 15.1 percent to $347.8 million.

Japanese arrivals, the state's largest international market, grew 21.5 percent to 135,764 visitors and spending rose 31.6 percent to $248.8 million. But arrivals from Canada, considered to be one of Hawaii's more mature international markets, were flat in July. Likewise, spending only grew 1.8 percent to $46.3 million.

Arrivals from all other markets, which include South Korea, China and Taiwan, grew 24.6 percent to 93,086. Spending by these visitors also grew 29.9 percent to $203.4 million.

Businesses that cater to Hawaii's visitor industry already are reporting gains that are consistent with the HTA numbers.

Danielle and Adam Poch of Homer, N.Y., first-time visitors to Hawaii, said they frequented as many activities as they could during their eight-day trip, which ended on Wednesday.

"We pretty much did everything," Adam Poch said. "We climbed Diamond Head, went to a luau, snorkeled and visited Pearl Harbor."

And, just to be sure that they left plenty of money in Hawaii, the couple said they made one last stop at the International Market Place before their evening flight.

"Hawaii is living the best of all worlds right now," said Brad Mettler, director of sales and marketing at the Hyatt Regency Waikiki Beach Resort and Spa. "It's as good as I've seen it since I got here four years ago."

In July, Hyatt's occupancy rate was consistently in the mid-90 percent, Mettler said.

"As we move into the fall shoulder season everything seems to be shaping up fine," he said. "And, there are signs that the peak holiday season will be robust. We are already seeing strong demand between Christmas and New Year's."

Quiksilver, which has a strong following among tourists, has seen an uptick in overall shopper volume and spending from the U.S. and abroad, said Hinano Akaka, a district manager for the chain.

"U.S. shoppers are more wary of what they are spending their money on, but they seem to see good value in Hawaii," Akaka said. "We're also getting lots of traffic from overseas. Visitors from Japan, Australia, Canada, China, Korea and even Europe are all shopping here more."

Even 6-year-old Zuzu Duchon and her 8-year-old brother Gage of the San Francisco Bay Area reflect the trend line. Earlier this week, the Duchon keiki frolicked on the beach at Disney's Aulani Resort in Ko Olina, but their mother Kristi drove them into Waikiki on Wednesday to hunt for pint-sized swimsuits and skateboards at Quiksilver's Waikiki Beach Walk store.

"It's crazy the money that you spend on kids these days," said their grandmother, Pat Boekhuizen. "The whole family likes to shop. It's a feel-good thing. It makes the kids more confident."

Akaka said it's not that unusual to see kids who are eager to shop.

"Kids are a lot more fashion-conscious," Akaka said. "They really look at what they are wearing."

To be sure, Aisha Z, a 10-year-old first-time visitor to Hawaii from Ottawa, Ontario, had plenty of opinions over which mother/daughter jewelry to buy at the Maui Divers Pick a Pearl stand in the International Market Place.

"Look, two pearls, it's a double blessing," Aisha said, jumping delightedly.

Judging by their comments, she and her mother, Kathy Z, probably had more trouble choosing which piece of jewelry to buy than deciding on Hawaii as the place for their two-week trip.

"Who doesn't want to go to Hawaii?" Kathy Z said. "It's a dream destination."



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