Fuel costs boost price of paradise
Rising fuel costs are also boosting rates on many goods and services for isle visitors
Visitors to Hawaii could be in for a surprise: The high cost of getting around does not end after that long and expensive airline flight from the mainland.
From air travel to exotic sea expeditions, rising fuel prices are making a Hawaii vacation an even more pricey affair.
Hawaii has the most expensive gas prices in the country, and many of those escalating costs are passed on to unsuspecting tourists. The average for a gallon of regular reached $3.41 on Wednesday, according to AAA's fuel gauge report.
Tourists are paying more for everything from snorkeling tours to soft drinks because of rising fuel costs.
Many in the travel industry say they have no choice but to raise prices because their costs are going up.
Hawaiian Airlines is cutting costs internally to ease the blow to customers, while fast-growing Norwegian Cruise Lines has avoided passing on the cost to customers.
Source: Associated Press
"It's forced everybody to raise their prices a little bit," said Dan Peavy, owner of Aqua Adventure Charters on Maui, which offers snorkeling and diving trips. "Most people don't even realize it."
Peavy said he raised prices by $4 per person this year to help offset the extra money spent to fuel the boats that take visitors out to sea.
Helicopter journeys around the islands also have become even more costly due to fuel costs. At Sunshine Helicopters on Maui, trips have increased in cost between $30 and $55.
"It's causing us to charge a higher price for our product, and it's passed on to the consumer," said Russ Scott, owner of Sunshine Helicopters. "It's an expensive thing we offer anyway. ... It's not good for business."
Even everyday items will take a few more pennies out of visitors' pockets.
Twelve-ounce soft drinks, lettuce and rice all cost a few cents more since shipping company Matson Navigation raised its fuel surcharge.
"It's an unavoidable expense," said Jeff Hull, spokesman for Matson. "You can't e-mail cargo."
Tourists to Hawaii spend an average of $170 a day, excluding air fare, said Eugene Tian, with the state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism. Only about 11 percent of those costs are attributed to transportation.
Tian said, "We haven't seen a significant increase yet, but eventually we will."
The tourism industry has been thriving in Hawaii despite the rising prices.
The state recently reported that there were 2.3 million visitors during the first four months of the year, a 2.1 percent increase over the same months in 2005. Those vacationers spent $3.8 billion during that time, an increase of 7.3 percent.
Getting to Hawaii in the first place is the most significant area where travelers will feel the pinch caused by rising fuel costs.
Airlines have had to find new ways to cut internal costs and ease the blow felt by customers, said Mark Dunkerley, president and chief executive officer of Hawaiian Airlines.
"Prices for consumers aren't going up nearly as much as they are for the airlines," he said.
Not all businesses have passed fuel costs on to customers.
Norwegian Cruise Lines, with one of the fastest-growing tourism businesses in the islands, has been able to absorb fuel costs so far without increasing ticket prices, said Robert Kritzman, executive vice president and managing director for Hawaii operations.
Some businesses partially dependent on tourism suffer when pump prices go up overnight.
Both cabs and buses are regulated, so gas prices do not directly affect how much they can charge. But that offers no real relief for the passenger. Hawaii's cab fares are among the highest in the country: a minimum $2.25 charge plus 30 cents for every eighth of a mile after that.
"Tourists don't ride in cabs as much right now," said Patrick Nguyen, a cabdriver waiting at Ala Moana Center for a fare to come along. "When business isn't good, it affects your tips."