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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, June 10, 2001

State begins cruise profiles

By Michele Kayal
Advertiser Staff Writer

Hawai'i will begin tracking demographic and spending information on the state's cruise-ship visitors next month, creating the same type of profile for them that until now had only existed for tourists who arrive by plane.

The Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism has selected OmniTrak Group to prepare a monthly survey of cruise-ship passengers covering length of stay before and after boarding the ship, islands visited, means of transportation to and from Hawai'i, general demographic information and spending.

The results will be published monthly starting in August as part of the regular visitor statistics already distributed, said Pearl Imada Iboshi, the department's chief economist.

"There's been a great deal of concern expressed about the industry itself and how much the state should invest in the industry," Imada Iboshi said. "You can't make good policy decisions without good information."

Some tourism executives, and particularly hotel interests, say they are concerned about the cruise industry because it requires investment in port facilities and can be a drain on already scarce airline seats.

The Hawai'i Tourism Authority has in the past discussed doing an extensive economic impact study of the industry. Imada Iboshi said gathering the preliminary information would lay the groundwork for such a study.

Cruise line representatives say they welcome the new survey as a way to prove the industry's value to Hawai'i.

"We're going to really find out that the cruise lines bring a lot," said Bill Thayer, president of shipping agent Waldron Steamship Co. Ltd. "And it's a low-impact industry to boot. We don't have to build hotels and a lot of infrastructure. With a few extensions of piers, we can bring a lot of people here and they drop off little green pieces of dead presidents and they leave. And that's beautiful business."

Cruise visitors to Hawai'i totaled 150,000 last year, including those who came by international ship and those who arrived by plane to board ships based in Hawai'i.

Over the next two years, port calls by international ships in Hawai'i will more than double to 532, according to figures from Waldron. Norwegian Cruise Line will base its new, 2,200-passenger Star here in December. U.S. company American Classic Voyages, which has been sailing the islands for years as American Hawaii Cruises and has two ships in service, will add two more ships by 2004.

But tourism executives are divided on how much cruise passengers contribute to the economy. A study commissioned by the North West Cruiseship Association and prepared by the state earlier this year, estimated cruise visitors in Hawai'i spend $83 a day, about half the amount spent by those arriving by air.

A 1999 study commissioned by the state's Harbors Division projects that more than 500,000 cruise passengers could come to Hawai'i in 2020, spending $295 million, contributing $765 million to the state's economy through spending and taxes, and fostering the creation of more than 10,000 jobs.

The 18-month cruise passenger survey contract is expected to come in around $100,000 annually, Imada Iboshi said, and should be signed by the end of this week.

Michele Kayal can be reached at mkayal@honoluluadvertiser.com