Monday, December 14, 1998

Cruise visitors
on rise in Hilo

Foreign vessels have more
than doubled last year's arrivals

Associated Press


Foreign-flagged vessels are making significant new contributions to the number of tourists coming to the east side of the Big Island.

This year is the first time foreign cruise ships visiting Hilo will outnumber domestic lines, whose visits to the port are down the last few years, said Ian Birnie, Hilo Harbor Master for the state Department of Transportation.

Forty-six foreign cruise ships arrived in Hilo through the first 11 months of the year, more than double the 21 foreign ships that stopped here in all of 1997, Birnie said. Another 10 cruise ships are expected to dock in Hilo this month. By comparison, in 1990 only 11 foreign ships docked in Hilo the entire year.

So even with the three-year slide in domestic cruise ship visits to Hilo, the larger capacity of the foreign-flagged ships has pushed total projections for 1998 to nearly 100,000 cruise ship passengers and 40,000 crew members visiting Hilo. Cruise line officials say their passengers spend an average of $200 a day while ashore.

Cruise ships brought in an estimated $8 million to the East Hawaii economy in 1997, said the Hilo/East Hawaii Tourism Group, which comprises nearly 50 representatives of government and businesses.

The number of foreign ships will increase further in 1999, and nearly 30 cruise ships already are scheduled to arrive in 2000.

"They're booking a couple of years in advance now," Birnie said. "I don't see any letup.'

Birnie believes the international cruise ship market is just beginning to discover Hawaii as a cruise destination. "This is close to an untapped market," he said. "Whenever they get (trouble) in the Middle East, more people take cruises to Alaska and Hawaii."

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