Visitor arrivals drop for 11th month in a row


POSTED: Thursday, February 26, 2009

Despite deep discounting and value-added offers from Hawaii's struggling visitor industry, arrivals decreased in January for the 11th straight month, and spending declined in all major markets, prompting hoteliers to remain cautious about their outlook for spring.




Visitor arrivals

        The number of visitors arriving in Hawaii by air in January with the percentage change from the same month last year:

Grand total522,241*-12.5%
by island
Big Island100,485-26.0%

        * Includes arrivals by ship


Source: Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism


Hawaii's visitor arrivals fell to 522,241 in January, a 12.5 percent decrease from the same period in the prior year, according to preliminary statistics released yesterday by the Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism. And, those who came by air spent 13.6 percent less than travelers who visited the islands in January 2008.

Average daily room rates are down to the level of two to four years ago, said Keith Vieira, senior vice president of operations for Starwood Hotels & Resorts-Hawaii & French Polynesia. “;Going forward, that will be our challenge. We need to grow back rates.”;

The drop in expenditures is not only linked to falling room rates; in general, customers are just more frugal, said David Carey, president and chief executive of Outrigger Enterprises Group.

“;Anecdotally, we hear from our restaurants that people are still coming in and buying a dinner, but they are making less extravagant choices and scaling back on expensive wine choices,”; Carey said.

Among the top four visitor markets, air arrivals from the U.S. West decreased 14.3 percent, while U.S. East arrivals were 14.9 percent less compared with January 2008. Japanese arrivals declined 12.7 percent, while arrivals by air from Canada were 4.7 percent lower than last January.

“;Waikiki is faring better than a lot of markets,”; said David Lewin, general manager of the Hyatt Regency Waikiki Beach Resort & Spa. “;If you look at Maui and the Big Island, you automatically feel better about yourself.”;

The neighbor islands bore the brunt of the downturn with total arrivals falling by 18.2 percent on Maui and a staggering 35.2 percent on Lanai.

“;Going down the list of Hawaii's top markets, there aren't any great stories,”; Carey said. “;The problem with this downturn is that it's a universal issue. There's no place around the world that is boasting about robust economic conditions.”;

Economic uncertainty also continues to hold individual travelers and groups back from booking, he said.

While February arrivals likely will be strong due to the Pro Bowl and Valentine's Day, Carey said short booking windows have made spring harder to predict.

“;Advance bookings on the airlines are not as robust as usual, and Easter is in April so March is going to be relatively soft, but hopefully we won't fall through the floor,”; he said.

The Easter holiday is likely to boost April; however, forecasting beyond that is difficult, Lewin said.

“;May is traditionally a slower month,”; he said. “;We still can't see summer because the booking windows have gotten so much shorter, but we are optimistic.”;

Visitor destinations around the world are experiencing challenges that are similar to Hawaii's, said state Tourism Liaison Marsha Wienert. However, Hawaii continues to be one of the top places that tourists would like to visit, Wienert said.

“;Our focus is to spread the message that despite a weak economy our state is still an affordable and worthwhile visitor destination,”; she said.

While there is still plenty of demand for Hawaii, it is at a much lower price point than it has been in the past, Lewin said.

“;We need to continue to build components into the price that show value,”; he said. “;We've gotten good response from our buy-three, one-free deal, where customers get one night free with a three-night purchase, as well as free breakfast and a room with a view.”;