Sunday, September 5, 2004

Fewer Hawaii residents
travel interisland

While local travel is down, more
folks are going to the mainland

Hawaii residents are taking fewer interisland trips but traveling more to the mainland, according to a recent study that highlights the challenges Hawaii-based airlines face in a changing travel industry.

The annual study by SMS Research and Marketing Inc. indicates that the number of Hawaii residents traveling interisland has shrunk by 22 percent since 2000.

However, travel to the mainland grew 19 percent in the same period, possibly a sign that local travelers are trying to squeeze more mileage out of their travel dollar in a time of rising interisland air fares.

The annual survey of 2,500 adult Hawaii residents earlier this year asked whether respondents had traveled interisland at least once in the previous year. It did not ask what factors were influencing their travel plans.

But Frederick Collison, a professor of transportation and marketing at the University of Hawaii, said rising costs and increased airport waits caused by security procedures were squelching interisland resident travel.

"Remember when you could pull a cheap ticket out of your coupon book, run down to the airport at the last minute and jump on a plane? Those days are gone," Collison said.

The SMS numbers seem to mirror state statistics showing a decline in overall interisland travel. Department of Transportation figures show that 15,641,116 passengers traveled interisland by air in 2003, down 24.6 percent from 20,757,540 in the year 2000.

Hawaii's two major airlines would not comment on trends in their own passenger numbers or their strategies on mainland vs. interisland routes.

But Hawaiian Airlines spokesman Keoni Wagner said the interisland segment has been shrinking due to an increase in direct routes by U.S. carriers to islands other than Oahu.

"Traditionally that visitor traffic drives the interisland segment of the market more than residents," he said.

Collison said interisland travel constitutes a major marketing challenged for Hawaiian and Aloha Airlines in the years ahead, particularly with the rise of price-competitive smaller operators like Pacific Wings and Island Air, which was formerly affiliated with Aloha but is now a competitor.

Another headache for the airlines is rising operating costs, he said, triggered mainly by expenses incurred for stricter security arrangements and the soaring cost of aviation fuel due to high oil prices.

With such challenges in their home markets, Hawaiian and Aloha are being forced to expand domestically and internationally to keep revenue churning.

"They've got their work cut out for them," Collison said.

The SMS survey extrapolates its data out to match the size of the state population.

It indicated that 398,874 Hawaii residents had taken interisland trips in the preceding 12 months, down 22 percent from 513,704 in 2000.

It said about 500,899 locals had taken mainland trips in the past year, up 19 percent from 420,000 four years ago.



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