Mainland airlines boosting direct flights to neighbor isles
After touching down at sunset yesterday on the Big Island, passengers on Delta Flight 343 were greeted with hula dancers and leis to celebrate the airline's inaugural flight from Salt Lake City to Kona.
But they were also riding a trend that has many in the visitor industry celebrating as well: the addition of more direct flights to neighbor island airports.
"Today's customer is demanding ease of access to their destination, and carriers are giving it to them," said state tourism liaison Marsha Wienert. "There is no question that the neighbor islands have seen growth in visitor numbers from the increase in domestic airlift."
For consumers, more direct flights mean greater ease of travel, but for neighbor island destinations an increase in direct flights likely means a lift in the market. US Airways and Delta Air Lines, which began additional nonstop service to the neighbor islands yesterday, are just the latest carriers to add such flights.
In recent years, Hawaii and other destinations have seen an uptick in the number of travelers seeking nonstop flights to avoid security hurdles and save time, Wienert said. The preference for direct flights to the neighbor islands is also due to a greater proportion of repeat visitors, who are less inclined to visit more than one island, she said.
"The first-time visitor tends to visit more than one island, but the repeat visitor tends to choose a favorite," Wienert said. "That's actually good for Hawaii because we are a mature destination, and one of the ways we can stimulate growth is by broadening our market."
Strong demand from domestic visitors has led to year-over-year increases in air seats to the neighbor islands, said Chris Kam, director of marketing trends for the Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau.
"People like the convenience," Kam said.
Fly-in destinations like Hawaii rely on air seats to grow tourism, and members of the Big Island's visitor industry well know the importance of additional flights after experiencing declines following Aloha Airlines' decision to cut its route from Oakland, Calif., Wienert said.
Through October, nonstop scheduled air seats to Maui were up 16.3 percent over the same period the year before, and seats to Kauai rose 6.7 percent, Kam said. While direct air seats to the Big Island slipped by 1.9 percent, overall visitor numbers rose, he said.
The neighbor islands were the fastest-growing isle tourism destinations through October, the Hawaii Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism has reported.
While Oahu showed a 3.5 percent increase in total arrivals to 384,593, the growth paled in comparison with all other islands. Leading the isles in visitor growth through October was the Big Island, with a 14.5 percent increase in arrivals. Kauai reported a 9.3 percent upswing; Maui recorded an 8.3 percent climb; and Molokai and Lanai ended up with strong single-digit growth.
Those numbers are expected to continue climbing with the addition of yesterday's new nonstop routes from Delta and US Airways, Kam said. The Delta route will add approximately 14,520 air seats per month, and US Airways will add 5,700 seats per month.
US Airways launched a four-flight daily service between its Phoenix hub and Hawaii. The company will fly between Phoenix and Honolulu and Phoenix and Kahului on 190-seat Boeing 757-200 aircraft.
US Airways also has announced that in March it will start one new daily round-trip flight between Las Vegas and Kahului, a second daily round trip between Phoenix and Honolulu, four new weekly round trips from Phoenix to Lihue, Kauai, and three round-trip flights per week to Kona.
Delta Air also began offering new daily nonstop service yesterday between Atlanta and Kahului, and one-stop service via Salt Lake City between Atlanta and Kona on the Big Island.
"Delta's newest service to Kona and Maui provides our customers with some of the best that our 50th state has to offer," said Bob Cortelyou, Delta's vice president of network planning.
Flights between Atlanta and Maui will be able to carry 199 passengers, and flights between Atlanta and Kona will be able to load up to 285 passengers, both on Boeing 767s.