Fewer visitors to isles

The 4.5 percent slip in tourists
from Japan sends July's tally
under last year's

By Rick Daysog

Visitor arrivals from Japan and other Asia-Pacific countries tumbled 4.5 percent in July, putting a lid on Hawaii's overall visitor count.

The Hawaii Visitors & Convention Bureau today said that tourism arrivals slipped 0.2 percent last month to 633,430 from July 1996's 634,770.

That means that tourism arrivals here have been down or flat in five out of the first seven months this year. For 1997 through July, Hawaii's visitor count is off 0.9 percent at 4.02 million from 1996's 4.05 million.

"It's been an up and down time and the momentum in the eastbound market is not in our favor," said Barbara Okamoto, HVCB's director of market research. "But July was encouraging from the standpoint of the westbound market."

Visitors Most of July's decline came from the eastbound market -- from all Asia-Pacific regions but dominated by Japanese travelers -- where arrivals fell to 263,930 from the year earlier's 276,360. The length of stay of the average eastbound traveler was off 2.7 percent to 5.85 days from July 1996's 6.01 days.

The westbound market -- mostly U.S. mainland and Canadian travelers -- offset some of that, increasing 3.1 percent last month to 369,500 from July 1996's 358,410. Travel from California was up 7.5 percent in July, to 141,880 from the year-earlier's 132,010.

The average daily census -- which measures the number of tourists in Hawaii on any given day -- was down 0.7 percent to 173,060 in July from 174,280 in the same month last year. A decline in this category typically indicates less spending and a drop in tourism's contribution to the state economy.

Earlier this year, legislators appropriated $10 million in emergency funding for tourism advertising in the mainland and Japanese markets.

Roberta Rinker-Ludloff, the HVCB's vice president for marketing, attributed the July increases in the westbound market to the mainland marketing blitz as arrivals from California and other Western states rebounded. But she noted that the ad campaign's impact on the Japanese market won't be seen until later this summer or even in the fall, due to the longer lead time for reservations in those markets.

Andre Tatibouet, chief executive officer of Aston Hotels & Resorts, said July's numbers show that Hawaii is being under-marketed as a visitor destination. He said travel from the mainland could increase by "high single-digits" if Hawaii were to step up its advertising.

But local economic consultant David Ramsour said he believes the marketing campaign will pay off when combined with the opening of the state Convention Center next year and growth on the neighbor islands.

He added that Japan, which is experiencing major changes in consumer spending patterns because of its soft economy and the weak yen, will continue to see Hawaii as a popular destination.

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