Tourism needs constant freshening to keep them coming
The tourism industry is on track for a record year in growth.
IF state and tourism officials aren't exactly jumping for joy about last month's record visitor arrivals
, that's because they are keenly aware of the industry's frangible nature.
Still, as 2006 shapes up as a boom year for tourism, Hawaii should be pleased with the prosperity a healthy economy brings to businesses and individuals alike.
In addition, it appears that the industry and the state's supportive leaders and agencies have learned how to deal with events and circumstances that could put a stopper in visitor arrivals. News about flooding and earthquakes seemed to have had little effect.
The state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism reported that arrivals in November inched up 1.6 percent and were on track toward another year-to-year record, but the increase was muted by an overall 0.1 percent decline thus far from 2005.
Most troubling were the persistent drops in spending and numbers of visitors from Japan, the market that has long sustained the industry. Japanese visitors fell 3.7 percent in November, while their spending plunged by 10.5 percent from last year.
It was encouraging to see a 1.3 percent increase in first-time visitors who tend to lay out more cash than repeat customers. However, while Hawaii seems to have broadened its appeal to capture new tourists, it must also figure out how to keep them coming back.
What the Japanese market is seeing is fatigue, a sense of been-there, done-that with an island vacation of shopping, dining and touring sights losing its novelty. An expansion of experiences, perhaps activities that emphasize arts, Hawaiian culture and recreation, would be productive.
The industry's restrained optimism reflects a wariness about the continued growth and strength of the state and national economy. Housing and construction, which has fueled both in the past few years, now appears to be lagging. A further downturn could constrain the U.S. visitor market that has kept tourism perking along.
November's report showed that the number of Americans traveling to the islands increased 3.5 percent. Even better were Canadian arrivals at 8.9 percent. Both groups raised their spending about 6.5 percent, adding to the total $10.8 billion tourists have spent so far this year.
Cruise ships brought in an addition 13 percent from last November, boosting to-date arrivals this year by 30 percent to nearly 376,000 passengers. These rising counts should make state lawmakers think about whether it's time to seek a revenue stream from a market largely left untouched to encourage its development.