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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, June 25, 2006

Now arriving from Down Under

Advertiser Staff Writer
By Christine Terada

Philip and Rose Azzopardi of Melbourne, in Victoria state, walk to dinner on Ala Moana near their hotel, the Aqua Palms. Rose, who works as a tour leader, led nearly a dozen friends from Melbourne on a vacation to O'ahu and the Neighbor Islands last week.

Photos by JEFF WIDENER | The Honolulu Advertiser

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48 U.S. cents

What an Australian dollar bought in 2001

73 U.S. cents

What an Australian dollar buys today

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Photo illustration by laurie arakaki | The Honolul

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Hawai'i saw a record number of Australian visitors last year, although the market is still below 1990’s peak of 237,808.


122,840 visitors


112,960 visitors


78,191 visitors


91,911 visitors


66,829 visitors


73,186 visitors

(* = preliminary)

Source: DBEDT

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Sally and Bob Clegg of Hobart, Tasmania, made Waikiki their first stop last week on a round-the-world trip. It was their first time here.

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David and Sue Tinning and their three children strolled through Waikiki last week as the new face of Australian tourism.

"I've always wanted to come here," Sue said less than 24 hours after landing on O'ahu for five days of surfing, snorkeling, touring and lu'au. "And now that I've been here, I just want to come back."

"Minus three kids," interrupted David, laughing.

Meanwhile, Bob and Sally Clegg arrived in Honolulu last week and spent their first day in Waikiki sitting on a bench enjoying the beach. The couple — he's 70 and she's 63 — planned to spend the week in Waikiki before circling the globe on a round-the-world ticket they received from their son in Canada.

The couple, from Hobart, Tasmania, flew on Qantas and wanted to stop in Hawai'i en route to visiting their son.

"I've never been to a Pacific island before, and I thought this might be my one chance," said Sally, a potter. "I never thought I'd come. It's been great."

The two families represent a growing number of Australian visitors who are spending their vacations in Hawai'i because of a thriving economy back home, a favorable exchange rate that has seen the Australian dollar strengthen by 50 percent since 2001, and increased airline flights between Hawai'i and Australia.

In 2001, 66,829 Australians visited the Islands. By 2005, the number had jumped to 122,840, according to data from the state Department of Business, Economic Development & Tourism.

The influx of Australians is particularly welcomed because it comes at a time when visitor arrivals from Japan are on the decline. Although the number of Australian tourists is still relatively low compared with arrivals from other countries, their spending is rising at a faster rate.

Total expenditures from U.S. West Coast visitors increased by 22.2 percent from 2001 to 2004, according to the latest data from DBEDT, while those from Japanese visitors increased by 3.51 percent. Comparatively, the combined expenditures of visitors from Australia and New Zealand shot up 112.3 percent to $191.7 million during the same period. (DBEDT doesn't separate spending figures for Australia and New Zealand).

In 2004, visitors from Australia and New Zealand spent an average of $1,450 per trip, compared with tourists from Japan ($1,459), the U.S. West ($1,408) and U.S. East ($1,770). Japanese visitors in 2004 still outspent all groups by averaging $251.50 per day.

But visitors from Australia and New Zealand — spending an average of $165.50 per day — kept pace with visitors from the U.S. East ($172.70) and U.S. West ($147.60).

As a result, Hawai'i businesses such as Hilo Hattie's, Local Motion, Outrigger Enterprises Inc., ResortQuest Hawaii and Aqua Hotels & Resorts have adapted to the growing crowd of Australian visitors.

Mike Paulin, Aqua's owner, saw high numbers in April, which prompted him to pursue marketing plans with an Australian general sales agency earlier than he anticipated.

"It's an ideal time to plunge in, full speed ahead," Paulin said.

Although Australia's arrivals are on the upswing, they are still below the 1990 peak of 237,808 visitors. Arrivals started declining after than when airlines began cutting back on travel between Australia and Hawai'i. Air seats were cut back as Australia's economy struggled and airlines developed longer-range aircraft that didn't need to stop for fuel in Hawai'i, said Marsha Wienert, Hawai'i's state tourism liaison.

Options became limited: Qantas flew three times per week and Air Canada flew daily between Australia and Hawai'i.

The number of Australian visitors plummeted to under 100,000 per year between 1996 and 2003, said Frank Haas, vice president of tourism marketing for the Hawai'i Tourism Authority.

"That is when the Australian tourism market began going elsewhere for vacations and travel," said Keoni Wagner, Hawaiian Airlines' spokesman.

The decline began to turn around on May 17, 2004, when Hawaiian started service between Sydney and Honolulu four times a week.

"Within the first few months of the service, the market grew by more than 40 percent — which told us that there is a large pent-up demand for travel to Hawai'i," Wagner said.

Several local businesses agree that the improvement in air service has boosted revenue from Australian tourists.

Hawaiian "has been a major force in bringing back Australians to Hawai'i and revitalizing that market," said Carlton Kramer, vice president of sales and marketing at Hilo Hattie's.

And Paulin says that "without the emphasis on air carriers, the market would continue to lay dormant."

Hawaiian's competitors are also beginning to expand their services in another sign of Australia's appeal, Wagner said.

Starting this December, Jetstar Airways Pty. Ltd,, which is owned by Qantas Airways Limited, plans to introduce scheduled service between Sydney and Honolulu nonstop three times per week and between Melbourne and Honolulu nonstop twice a week.

"We are confident that the expansion of air service will further contribute to the development of the market and its related positive economic impact to the state," Haas said. "If we can get more air service, then there is a bona-fide market for travel."

In addition to encouraging increased air services, the HTA has expanded its marketing budget for Australia and New Zealand by 50 percent for 2006 — boosting spending from $600,000 to $900,000, according to Haas.

Two years ago, the HTA began its Aloha Down Under program to train Australian travel agents on selling Hawai'i as a destination. Now the HTA and Hawaiian are teaming up on a marketing campaign to encourage even more trips.

Although Australians only made up 1.7 percent of Hawai'i's overall tourism market in 2005, Haas says they are still important because they help businesses diversify their base of customers.

"Australia will actually prove to be a very dynamic market," and Hawai'i needs to be ready as the developing market grows and opens up, Wienert said.

Australians made up only 1 or 2 percent of Aqua's visitors a year ago, and the numbers have tripled since the beginning of this year, according to Paulin.

Even within the past 90 days, Australians have increased to 5 to 7 percent of overall business at Aqua.

Rose Azzopardi and her 11 friends from Melbourne, Victoria, spent their last three days in Hawai'i at Aqua Palms & Spa. The 59-year-old tour leader and organizer for her company Roses Adventure led the group on a Hawaiian vacation that included seven days cruising the Neighbor Islands.

Rose and company enjoyed their time in Hawai'i, though they said there was one thing they wished Island culture included: afternoon tea.

Paulin's goal is to generate 10 percent of his business from Australia, saying that it is "a nice market to hedge against the drop in Japan's market."

Similarly, Outrigger has seen an increase this year in the number of Australians visiting its Hawai'i properties, according to Barry Wallace, executive vice president of hospitality services, who could not immediately provide data.

Outrigger already has an advantage with the Australian market because of the brand recognition it receives from its 12 Australian properties.

"It is an opportunity to diversify our mix of visitors, makes it more fun around here and balances risk," Wallace said.

Meanwhile, ResortQuest enjoyed an estimated 50 percent increase in Australian visitors from 2004 to 2005, according to president Kelvin Bloom, who said that "the numbers are still increasing."

ResortQuest has representation and marketing campaigns in Australia for its 27 Hawai'i properties.

Brian Saltiban still sees mostly Japanese customers at the Local Motion Waikiki surf store where he works as a supervisor. But lately, Saltiban has noticed a lot more Australians.

"It puts a big smile on my face," Saltiban said. "It's fun to meet a lot of different people, and their accent is really cool. They're really nice people."

Since Hawaiian began its regular Australia routes, Hilo Hattie's, which specializes in Hawaiian gifts and clothing, has enjoyed an increase from a couple hundred Australians per year to a couple thousand per year, Kramer said.

Australians "greatly embrace aloha wear," Kramer said. They are "a very important market for us because they like our products, and they like to shop."

They often arrive in the Islands during Hilo Hattie's off seasons, Kramer said, which makes them "a wonderful market for us."

Paul and Judith Rogers, both 70, just returned to Waikiki for their second Hawai'i trip in 26 years.

"It's been good. We've done a lot of shopping," Paul said. "We came here to relax."

Judith, donning sunglasses and a sparkly purse, then walked with her husband down Kalakaua Avenue in search of more purchases to take back home.

Reach Christine Terada at cterada@honoluluadvertiser.com .