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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Visitor numbers could be surpassed in '06

By Lynda Arakawa
Advertiser Staff Writer

Shops and small businesses reported a stellar year in 2005 as the number of tourists visiting Hawai'i topped 7 million for the first time. Tourism officials expect the boom to continue this year with 7.66 million people expected to visit the state in 2006.

GREGORY YAMAMOTO | The Honolulu Advertiser

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Hawai'i welcomed more visitors last year who spent more money than ever, and this year could be yet another record.

Hawai'i hosted 7.46 million tourists last year, beating the previous high of 6.99 million visitors in 2004, according to preliminary statistics released yesterday by the state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism.

Visitors who arrived here by air totaled 7.38 million and spent a record $11.5 billion. Another 77,662 arrived by ship.

The record number of visitors has meant more jobs for Hawai'i residents and more money flowing into the state's economy. But it also raised concerns about straining Hawai'i's natural resources and infrastructure. State tourism officials have been repeating the need to grow Hawai'i's No. 1 industry by increasing tourists' spending rather than simply bringing more visitors here.

Still, the number of visitors is projected to continue growing, with 7.66 million arrivals forecast this year. They are likely to spend close to $12.3 billion.

The increase in visitors has meant good times for many businesses large and small.

"I'm very happy," said Hanauma Bay Dive Tours owner/operator Allyn Plant. "It was really good. I think 2005 has been our best year."

Plant's company takes tourists snorkeling and scuba diving in Hanauma Bay. He hired an additional instructor and a couple of part-time workers last year. He said he expects 2006 to "be a really good year" as well, so long as there are no damaging events like an epidemic or terrorist attack.

"More people want to stay inside the United States and travel. Hawai'i is a safe destination," Plant said.

Action Sports Maui, which teaches surfing, kite-boarding and wind surfing, saw a 10 percent increase in business. The company was busier during traditionally slower periods and hired a sixth full-time instructor, said owner and operator David Dorn. But Dorn said operating costs also increased, and more competing small businesses opened.

"We're working harder for our dollar," he said. "We're happy not to go backwards, though."

The number of visitor days grew by 6.9 percent and total expenditures by 8.4 percent last year, largely due to the strong increase in visitor arrivals. The average length of stay was flat, and daily spending per person grew just 1.3 percent to $171.90. Spending per person per trip grew 1.5 percent to $1,563.60.

The number of air visitors from Hawai'i's major markets the Mainland, Japan and Canada increased last year. But while Mainland and Canadian visitor spending increased, Japanese tourists spent slightly less daily and per trip, resulting in zero growth in Japanese total expenditures.

Every island hosted more visitors last year, and all saw increased spending except for Lana'i, which experienced a 5.9 percent drop in total expenditures.

Cruise visitors last year grew 31.2 percent to 315,914, including those who flew here to board ships and those who arrived with the ships. NCL America's second U.S.-flagged ship, the Pride of America, began inter-island cruises in July.

"Passing the 7 million milestone was a tremendous achievement for our state's visitor industry, and we are also pleased to achieve an all-time high of $11.5 billion in expenditures," said state tourism liaison Marsha Wienert. "These milestones reflect the quality and professionalism of everyone involved in the visitor industry."

December also showed growth for the visitor industry, thanks in part to increased tourist participation in the Honolulu Marathon and the 2005 International Chemical Congress of Pacific Basin Societies.

Visitor arrivals for December grew 5.5 percent year-over-year to 650,506, and total expenditures were up 9.2 percent at $1.1 billion.

Reach Lynda Arakawa at larakawa@honoluluadvertiser.com.

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