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Hawaii’s biggest source of tourists will shift from the U.S. to Asia over the next few years and maintaining a steady level of corporate conferences will be necessary to buoy tourism during the transition.
Hawaii’s tourism industry should continue to grow next year but at a slower pace, as airlines cut back on the number of seats and flights they offer from the U.S. mainland to the islands, the state’s tourism agency said Thursday.
About 8.75 million visitors will likely travel to Hawaii in 2014, some 3.2 percent more than the 8.48 million visitors projected to arrive this year, Hawaii Tourism Authority Vice President David Uchiyama said at the agency’s 2013 tourism conference.
This is less than the 5 percent increase in visitors the industry is expected to get this year. It’s also significantly less than 2012’s 10 percent climb in visitor arrivals.
Uchiyama said airlines had added quite a few flights from West Coast cities like Oakland, San Jose and San Diego in recent years but are scaling those back now. They also launched new direct service between Honolulu and New York and Washington, D.C. on the East Coast but have been reducing the frequency of these flights because of slow demand.
However, international travelers from places like Japan and China are making up for some of the slowdown, Uchiyama said.
Japan Airlines will be adding an average of 600 seats per day to Hawaii when it upgrades its Boeing planes from the 767 to the new 787 Dreamliner.
The islands will also experience more direct flights arriving from China as Hawaiian Airlines adds nonstop service from Honolulu to Beijing and China Eastern increases the frequency of its flights from Shanghai.
The tourism authority recently hired an agent to market Hawaii in China, which Uchiyama said should provide a boost.
Average daily spending for travelers should rise 2.6 percent to more than $202.57 in 2014. But Uchiyama said prices are starting to hit the upward limits of what leisure travelers are willing to spend.
He also warned the number of visitors could start declining in 2015 and the years after.
This is because meeting and convention reservations — which are usually made five to 10 years in advance — are weak for those years. On top of that, airlines may continue to cut back on the number of seats and flights to Hawaii.
Uchiyama said it was important that the industry aggressively get meeting bookings now.
“Otherwise we’ll all be in a fire sale. We will be offering ‘five nights get four free’ and ‘three for one’ on attractions and all that kind of stuff,” Uchiyama said.
Jon Conching, Hilton Worldwide‘s regional vice president for Hawaii and select hotels sales and marketing, agreed with Uchiyama that it’s a concern.
It’s too late to secure 2015 and 2016 reservations from large associations, but it’s too early for corporate reservations that generally come in a year or 18 months in advance, Conching said.
Hawaii’s travel industry has done well recently in part because it’s had strong conventions and meeting business to build on, he said.
“Despite the strong demand for leisure business trends in Hawaii now, you still need that base,” he said.
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