O Canada, Oh Hawaii!
More snowbirds from north of the U.S. are flocking to the islands amid an improved exchange rate and hurricane damage at other popular destinations
THE UPSURGE in the Canadian dollar to a 13-year high against U.S. currency, combined with a drop in temperature and hurricane troubles along the Gulf Coast, has triggered stronger demand for Hawaii among Canadian snowbirds who are planning their annual migration to warmer climes.
Snowbirds are known to travel long distances and to cross oceans to get to their winter quarters, but in the past, the cost to come to Hawaii has deterred some of them from traveling to Hawaii.
Canadians are visiting Hawaii and staying longer in 2005 than a year ago. Here are year-to-date Canadian visitor numbers through October.
Visitor arrivals: 188,381, up 10.1%
Average length of stay: 12.99 days, up 0.6%
Visitor days: 2.4 million, up 10.8%
Average daily spending: $128 per person, off 0.4%
Average trip spending: $1,656 per person, up 0.2%
Total expenditures: $312 million. up 10.4%
Ron and Margaret Newsome of Trenton, Ontario, who flew to Oahu last month, said the timing for Canadians to come to Hawaii has never been better.
"We've been trying to get to Hawaii for 38 years--- ever since, we got married," Ron Newsome said.
Low airfares combined with the increased value of the Canadian dollar, enabled the couple, who were traveling with fellow Canadian friends Dan and Helen Lefebvre, not only to travel to Hawaii but also to cruise the islands on NCL America's newest home-ported vessel Pride of America.
The Newsomes and the Lefebvres are representative of a new flock of Canadian visitors who are undeterred by paradise premiums and will part with their pennies in exchange for entertainment and activities -- if the price is right.
That price has been attractive lately with Canada's dollar closing Friday at a two-month high of 86.02 U.S. cents, just off its 13-year high of 86.26 on Sept. 30. Taken another way, one US. dollar buys C$1.16.
"Canadians are a more value-conscious clientele, but we are trying to remind them to get out and experience Hawaii by participating in snorkeling trips, lavender farm tours or to choose something else from the plethora of other activities that we offer," said Elizabeth Johnson, managing director of travel industry partnerships for the Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau in the United States and Canada.
The payoff for this kind of marketing has been folks like Irene and Joe Sergi of Hamilton, Canada, who said they planed to stay in a hotel, snorkel and visit the Polynesian Cultural Center during their stay in Hawaii.
"Everyday is filled," Irene Sergi said last month after landing in Honolulu. "This is the trip of a lifetime."
VISITORS FROM Canada, which represent Hawaii's fourth-largest market after the U.S. West, U.S. East and Japan, have the potential to increase dramatically as the population begins to yield a greater number of active seniors, like the Sergis, who can afford to go south for the winter.
About 19 percent of Canadians plan to travel outside of Canada this winter, according to a recent Conference Board of Canada Survey.
The Hawaii Department of Business Economic Development and Tourism claims 2 percent of these vacationers will visit Hawaii between November and March and will average a two-week length of stay, the longest amongst Hawaii's visitor groups
Canadian tourist arrivals were up 10.1 percent through the first 10 months of the year, the HVCB said.
"Canada is a very important market to Hawaii tourism," said Frank Haas, marketing director for the Hawaii Tourism Authority.
"It's the fourth largest, but the majority of our visitors originate from the U.S. or Vancouver."
FL MORRIS / FMORRIS@STARBULLETIN.COM
Canadian tourist arrivals were up 10.1 percent during the first 10 months of this year. Above, Canadian Bee Tully, of Vancouver, British Columbia, removed her luggage from the carousel after arriving on an Air Canada Flight last month at Honolulu Airport.
Snowbirds typically take longer vacations in Hawaii than other travelers, and over the course of the trip spend a substantial amount of money for accommodations, activities, food, clothing and services, Haas said.
Canada currently contributes a significant 5 percent of total visitor days to Hawaii, mainly during the winter months. In addition, Canadians stay an average of about 13 days, about 30 percent longer than U.S. visitors, he said.
But while Canada is a potentially large market for Hawaii, it has shown little long-term growth over the past decade, he said.
Increased competition from other destinations, which actively recruit snowbirds, has diminished the market, Haas said. In addition, the recent success of Hawaii's visitor industry has made it difficult for Canadians and other travelers to book accommodations and air seats, he said.
THIS YEAR, the visitor industry may see greater turnaround from the Canadian market. Damage from hurricanes and increased gas prices have led many Canadians to consider traveling to Hawaii over other competitive destinations such as Mexico, Florida or the Caribbean, said Helen Lefebvre, an Air Canada employee and repeat snowbird to Hawaii.
"We always come to Hawaii in November or October of each year," she said. "Mexico is also a very popular destination, but this year, the terrible hurricanes on the Atlantic Coast will bring more people to Hawaii."
Since many of the destinations that snowbirds like to visit have been decimated, Hawaii will see a lot more snowbirds this season, said Mike Paulin, president and chief executive officer of Aqua Hotels and Resorts, which specializes in hotel condominium accommodations.
"The snowbirds will start coming about the middle of November as soon as the first blanket of snow covers the ground, and they'll keep coming through Easter," Paulin said,
Canadians also will have more opportunities to visit Hawaii this winter as airline capacity continues to rise, Johnson said.
"Seat capacity is already up 7.2 percent year to date," she said.
Beginning Friday, West Jet will add five weekly flights from Vancouver to Honolulu and beginning Dec. 15 will add two additional flights per week from Vancouver to Maui, said Chris Kam, director of marketing trends for the HVCB.
The flights, which will run through April, have the potential to bring an additional 19,256 passengers from Canada to Hawaii, Kam said.
"That's significant," he said.
With Canadian snowbirds coming back into the market in full force, the key will be how to entice them to fly the coup during Hawaii's shoulder season in the spring and fall, Johnson said.
The HVCB will conduct product launches in Edmonton, Calgary and Vancouver from Tuesday through Thursday, she said.
"Awareness of the Hawaii destination is very strong," Johnson said. "The Canadian travel agents are very hungry for information."