December arrivals increase slightly
By Robbie Dingeman
Advertiser Staff Writer
Hawai'i's tourism industry ended a dismal year on a bit of an up note.
The number of visitors traveling to the Islands rose 2.4 percent to 577,657 in December from the same month a year ago and the amount spent by air travelers edged up 0.5 percent to $955.2 million, according to a report released yesterday by the Hawai'i Tourism Authority. It was the first increase in spending in nearly two years.
However, arrivals for the full year fell 4.5 percent to 6.5 million. Spending by air travelers declined 11.7 percent to $9.869 billion, the HTA said.
Despite the full-year declines, the report offered reason for some cautious optimism, industry officials said.
Outrigger Enterprises Group president and chief executive officer David Carey said the overall trend seems to point toward signs of recovery after some bad times of double-digit declines in arrivals and deeply discounted rates.
"The good news is that it's not down," Carey said, during a break from a conference on hotel investment in San Diego.
For the industry, the top issue remains the low hotel rates. "We're coming off a really bad year last year — 2008."
Hawai'i Tourism Authority president and chief executive officer Mike McCartney said he was encouraged by an increase in visitors from the U.S. West in seven of eight months, as well as increases from Japan.
McCartney said targeting helped the state maintain air seats from the high-spending Japan market, "and we will recapture most of the seat inventory lost with the closures of Aloha and ATA airlines."
In 2010, Hawai'i will have a total of 580,000 air seats from new routes from all markets, the majority of which are from North America, he said.
He said the Korea market proved encouraging, up 44.2 percent over 2008 despite the H1N1 epidemic that affected arrival numbers from Asia in the beginning of the year.
"We're going to continue to scrap and claw to maintain where we are," Carey said. He said targeted marketing by government and private companies appears to have helped improve the outlook but gains will still come slowly.
Ben Rafter, president and chief executive officer of Aqua Hotels & Resorts said he is hopeful about the new air seats from the West Coast and other signs of recovery.
Still, there's reason to be cautious after watching average daily room rates fall for 17 consecutive months, Rafter said.
State tourism liaison Marsha Wienert said she's heartened by the slight increase in spending as well as arrivals. "That's the first increase in spending since March 2008," she said.
Wienert predicts this year will be stable and likely to see an increase in the number of arrivals although spending may be flat.
"Some months will be up a little bit, some will be down," she said.
Rafter said the recovery will be fragile. "Oil prices could increase, the airline situation in Japan is tenuous and the American economy is unpredictable."
Carey and state tourism liaison Marsha Wienert said hotel occupancy seems to be holding steady or slightly up, especially on O'ahu.
While group tour business for conventions and meetings has slowed to a trickle, both Wienert and Carey said O'ahu arrivals have shown progress and the state has held its own compared to many other visitor destinations.
Said Wienert: "2010 brings new opportunities and is projected to be tourism's stabilizing year after two years of decline."
Wienert said the addition of nearly 580,000 airline seats this year points to the confidence the airlines have that tourism to Hawai'i will rebound and strengthen.