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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted at 12:07 p.m., Friday, May 23, 2003

Mainland arrivals buoy Hawai'i tourism

By Kelly Yamanouchi
Advertiser Staff Writer

Tourists from the Mainland helped offset a sharp drop in Japanese visitors last month when the tourism industry was feeling the effects of the war with Iraq and the SARS virus.

April was the first month that the state's nearly $10 billion tourism industry saw the full impact of the war and the outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome, which has stifled tourism in Asia and left many there fearful of going to airports and traveling.

A total of 479,371 visitors came to Hawai'i last month, up just 0.7 percent compared with last April, according to figures released today by the state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism.

Mainlanders continued to travel to Hawai'i, showing some resilience as the number of visitors from the U.S. west and east regions increased 13.8 percent and 11 percent respectively last month. The domestic market made up 78.4 percent of all visitors to the state during the month.

"Hawai'i is perceived as a very safe destination even when there's a war going on," said David Carey, chief executive of Outrigger Enterprises Inc. "We're still hopeful that the summer's going to keep this trend out of North America. And if we can keep SARS out of Hawai'i and get Japan to come back that would be very helpful."

Indeed, the biggest concern in the tourism industry is the drop in Japanese business, a years-long decline that has become even more severe. The number of Japanese visitors to the state fell 33.2 percent, reflecting the thousands of people who cancelled trips and decided not to travel.

Waikiki businesses that cater to Japanese say that in spite of some recovery in tourism to the state as a whole, O'ahu is heavily dependent on Japanese tourists and so continues to suffer. The number of visitors to O'ahu decreased 10.3 percent in April.

"If you look at O'ahu it's not a pretty picture," Carey said.

Meanwhile, all other islands had increases in visitors Ð Maui, for example, had a 17.9 percent increase in visitor arrivals and Moloka'i had a 59.4 percent jump.

While the total number of visitors coming into the state was essentially flat, those who made the trip stayed longer, bringing the total number of days all visitors spent in the state 15 percent higher than last April. Visitor days are considered a good gauge of the economic contribution of tourism in the state.

"The April increase was a welcomed contrast to previous trends during the month following the 1991 war with Iraq and the month after the September 11, 2001, attack," DBEDT director Ted Liu said in a written statement.

For the year through April, visitor arrivals were up 1.5 percent, with an increase in arrivals from the U.S. western region (up 2.4 percent) and U.S. east (up 3 percent), while Japanese visitor arrivals were down 6.1 percent compared with the same period last year.

The state also released figures yesterday showing visitors spent $2.6 billion here during the the first three months of the year, up 8.4 percent compared with the same period last year.

Spending by western Mainland visitors increased 8.2 percent, Mainland easterners' spending increased 3.8 percent and Japanese visitor spending increased 7.4 percent. Japanese continued to spend the most per day at $242 per person, followed by U.S. easterners ($163) and U.S. westerners ($151).

However, Japanese tend to stay for shorter periods of time and spent the least per trip, at $1,387 per person, while visitors from the eastern Mainland spent the most per trip at $1,873 per person.