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Wednesday, December 29, 1999



Japanese
help lift Hawaii
tourism numbers

The count rose by 5.4 percent
last month with the aid of a
jump in Japanese visitors

By Russ Lynch
Star-Bulletin

Tapa

The first increase in Asia-Pacific tourist traffic to Hawaii in nearly two years helped send the state's visitor count up 5.4 percent in November, and industry executives expect to close 1999 with a welcome gain over last year.

The state reported today a 2.2 percent spike in Japanese arrivals last month over November 1998 and a 7.8 percent rise in travelers from the mainland and Canada, a market that has been strong throughout 1999.

Tourism graphic Hotel industry leaders say December is only slightly ahead of last year, as the huge millennium flow they expected failed to happen. But the end result will still be a positive year, heading into what promises to be a strong beginning for 2000, they say.

"We are pleased to see this positive growth in eastbound travel," said Seiji Naya, director of the state Department of Business, Economic Development & Tourism. "This is a significant indicator that the eastbound economy may be recovering and that we can expect more growth in the coming year."

The eastbound market, primarily from Japan but also consisting of other Asia-Pacific countries, had been hurt by the Asian economic crisis. The last time Hawaii saw an increase in eastbound travelers was in January 1998. Still, the November increase reported by DBEDT didn't do much for the neighbor islands, which were all down except for Kauai.

And the average tourist length of stay was also lower, a dip of 2.2 percent from the previous November to 8.49 days, from 8.68 days. The tourism industry considers that a critical number because the longer visitors stay, the more money they spend.

Still, industry officials are happy with the overall increase for November especially the slight Asia-Pacific rebound, which was up 1 percent as the increase in Japanese arrivals more than made up for declines from smaller markets.

Of the 190,120 visitors who came from the Asia-Pacific area last month, 150,740 were from Japan, up from 147,430 Japanese in November 1998. The westbound arrivals total for November was up by more than 26,000, at 362,360 vs. 336,080 in November 1998.

The result was total visitor arrivals of 552,480, up 28,090 from 524,390 in November 1998.

For the year through November, total arrivals equaled 6.3 million, up 2.2 percent from 6.17 million in the 11 months of 1998.


ISLAND-BY-ISLAND

Here's an island-by-island look at last month's numbers vs. November 1998.:

Bullet The Oahu visitor count rose 5.2 percent to 385,770 from 366,740 a year earlier.

Bullet Kauai's tourist traffic was up 6.9 percent with 86,930 visitors vs. 81,290.

Bullet Maui's count dropped 2.7 percent, with 173,290 visitors compared with 178,150.

Bullet Big Island tourist numbers fell 1.1 percent to 101,080, from 102,250.

Bullet Lanai was down 8.4 percent, with 6,970 arrivals compared with 7,610.

Bullet Molokai sank 7.5 percent with 5,300 visitors, from 5,730.


Hawaii's total visitor count in 1998 was down nearly 2 percent from 1997.

If the full-year numbers for 1999 are to beat 1998's total of 6.7 million, Hawaii will need to get at least 400,000 visitors in December but that appears already to be well in hand. Last December, Hawaii attracted 570,300 visitors; hotel executives expect business to at least match that this month.

"We're slightly ahead of last year," said Keith Vieira, vice president and chief of Hawaii operations for Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide Inc. "We thought we were going to be way ahead of last year," he said, but like most of the world, Hawaii is seeing a let-down in the end-of-century rush that was expected.

"The week prior to Christmas was good, with three bowl teams in town. The 31st is solid, but the days prior to it are washed out," Vieira said. "But we've had five straight months of improvement and the second half of the year is much better than last year."

Bryan Klum, director of marketing at Outrigger Hotels & Resorts, said his company's hotels expect December to be "dead even with last year," despite the failure of the millennium business to materialize.

Japanese business is down for the year-end, but mainland-Canadian business is up, Klum said.

There is a change in the Japanese market, too, he noted. "The Japanese are more cost-conscious, a bit less interested in the top brands, less interested in paying for them," he said.

Like Vieira and other tourism executives, Klum attributes that to Hawaii becoming a familiar market for the Japanese, with a large number who have already been here at least once.

"They're more like North Americans," Klum said.

DBEDT said a drop in Asia-Pacific travel to certain neighbor islands last month was behind the overall declines on Maui and the Big Island, which attracted more westbound visitors than in November 1998.



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