Source: The Honolulu Star-Advertiser
Author: Dave Segal
Tamara Downey of Oceanside, Calif., had been dreaming about returning to Hawaii ever since taking a Princess cruise around the islands with husband John three years ago.
She was back in the islands this month and is planning to return with her husband and their 18-year-old daughter in two weeks.
“What was very appealing to me is Hawaii is so into preserving the beauty of the islands,” said Downey, 49, who said she “beached it” in Waikiki her entire 15-day stay. “All the food containers were recyclable to preserve keeping the island as beautiful as possible. It was the air, the tradewinds and the flowers, and the food was phenomenal, delicious, amazing. What’s not to like?”
That’s the type of response the state’s visitor industry likes to hear, and is one reason tourism continues fueling Hawaii’s economic recovery.
Visitor arrivals and spending set records for the month of May, following on the heels of record numbers in both categories for April. The number of visitors to the state last month jumped 12.5 percent to 622,899, and spending surged 17.5 percent to $1.1 billion as both figures topped the previous highs for the month of May set in 2007. That year, there were 599,842 arrivals who spent $922 million.
In May 2011, there were 553,505 visitors to the state who spent $912.3 million.
“I’ve been to the Grand Cayman, Jamaica, Cozumel and a lot of destinations in Mexico,” said Downey, who was back at her home in California. “The people in Hawaii are much more friendly and have a much more open spirit. They’re happy to have you there.”
Visitors like Downey helped boost arrivals from the U.S. West, the state’s top tourism market, by 8.7 percent in May to 264,158. Spending by U.S. West visitors was up 15 percent at $383 million.
While all the state’s major visitor markets showed gains, Japan had the biggest improvement. Rebounding from the devastating earthquake and tsunami of March 2011, Japanese arrivals soared 31.4 percent to 106,569. Japanese visitor spending increased 36.4 percent to $188.1 million, fueled by a 6.6 percent gain in daily spending of $307 per person.
“Hawaii’s tourism economy continued to prosper in May,” Mike McCartney, president and CEO of the Hawaii Tourism Authority, said in a statement. “Recent increases in domestic and international airlift along with major conventions, festivals and events throughout the state helped to generate an additional $159 million in May 2012 compared to last year, contributing to job growth and positive economic recovery for all major islands.”
Visitors are also spending more compared with a year ago, with daily expenditures up 2.6 percent to $190 per person.
Arrivals for the first five months of the year are up 10 percent to 3.3 million while spending is ahead 16.8 percent to $5.8 billion. State tourism officials have forecast visitor arrivals this year to grow to a record 7.8 million and visitor spending to hit a record $13.9 million. The previous records were 7.5 million visitors in 2006 and $12.6 billion in visitor spending in 2007.
McCartney said he is anticipating that this summer will be more prosperous than in previous years due to several new nonstop flights to Honolulu initiated in June. Hawaiian Airlines began nonstop daily service from John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York. United Airlines started nonstop daily service from Dulles International Airport in the Washington, D.C., area. And Las Vegas-based Allegiant Air, which primarily connects secondary markets to leisure destinations, entered the Hawaii market for the first time this year with its first flight due in this morning from Las Vegas and another flight to follow Saturday from Fresno, Calif.
Through the first five months of this year, total air seats were up 4.5 percent to 4.06 million from 3.88 million in the year-earlier period, HTA said.
Mark Dunkerley, president and CEO of Hawaiian Airlines, said the number of airline seats available doesn’t drive visitor arrivals but rather it’s the demand for a Hawaii vacation and the accommodation capacity.
“The fact that airlift is going up is the result of strengthening demand,” he said.
McCartney noted that the biennial Rim of the Pacific, or RIMPAC, military exercise that began this week –the largest-ever RIMPAC event held in the state — will boost the economy due to the participation of 22 nations and approximately 25,000 personnel.