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Hawaii's tourism sees boost


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POSTED: Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Booyah for Barack and blizzards!

Thanks to the lingering cold front on the U.S. mainland and President Barack Obama's widely covered winter vacation in Hawaii, the state's beleaguered visitor industry is seeing a boost in first-quarter bookings.

After six consecutive months of growth, arrivals from Hawaii's top U.S. West visitor market fell in November, pushing total visitor arrivals into a 1.4 percent decline, according to statistics released yesterday by the Hawaii Tourism Authority. Arrivals from every major market except Japan dropped, causing visitor spending to fall 2.2 percent. Even Hawaii's top U.S. West market, which had been on a six-month growth spurt, took a hit last month, pushing the overall visitor count down to 490,514 and forcing spending down to $771 million.

“;As we anticipated, arrivals during November, historically a slow month for tourism, were slightly down,”; said Mike McCartney, president and chief executive officer of the Hawaii Tourism Authority. “;However, the good news is that we are continuing to trend ahead of and gain market share from some of our competitors for our North America market, including Mexico and the Caribbean.”;

Through November, Hawaii's visitor arrivals fell 5.1 percent to 5.9 million, and spending had dropped by 12.9 percent to $8.9 billion. However, market watchers have signaled that the worst could be over: April ended a 10-month run of double-digit hemorrhaging, December's peak holiday season brought the expected rush of travelers and U.S. carriers will add 497,309 air seats to the market by December 2010.

“;November performed near expectations, and all of the positive indicators from HTA's report released today, especially increased air capacity, are good signs,”; said Revell Newton, complex director of sales and marketing for Starwood Hotels & Resorts in Waikiki.

; Visitors from Dallas to Denver and Detroit and source markets in between have begun to book isle travel for next year, said Jack Richards, president and CEO of Pleasant Holidays LLC, Hawaii's largest travel wholesaler.

“;The recession is over, the global financial crisis appears to be behind us, consumer confidence is improving and oil prices remain low,”; Richards said, adding that packages to Hawaii are tracking well ahead of last year.

Hawaii benefited from Mexico's troubles and from the snowstorms that moved through the Midwest and the East Coast, he said. Images of Obama, who arrived Thursday to enjoy Hawaii's charms along with his family and friends, are also a powerful travel motivator, Richards said.

“;Any time you have the president of the United States staying there, it's positive,”; he said. “;It shows it's safe to travel and shows off Hawaii.”;

In addition, the presidential entourage — which includes Secret Service, staff, site teams and a protective pool of White House media correspondents, along with their friends and family — filled Hawaii hotels in December, he said.

“;I'm glad that he's there. I wish that he would stay a month,”; Richards said.

In 2010, Hawaii also will receive extensive national television exposure from sporting events such as the Hawaiian Airlines Diamond Head Classic, Sheraton Hawaii Bowl and PGA tour events, McCartney said.

“;Aggressive marketing and increased air seats moving forward allows us to be optimistic that in 2010 we will experience growth in arrivals, which will help stabilize visitor spending and position us for increased expenditures in 2011,”; said state Tourism Liaison Marsha Wienert.

But while these positive factors will yield more robust arrivals, it could be years before Hawaii hoteliers and other members of the visitor industry see spending recover to 2007 levels, said Barry Wallace, executive vice president of hospitality services for Outrigger Enterprises Group.

“;We'll surpass both 2008 and 2009 occupancy, but not average daily room rates or revenues,”; Wallace said.

The consumer price index will probably outpace revenue per available room, the best measure of hotel performance, for the next five years, he said.

While Hawaii's hotel industry will not fully recharge next year, occupancy improvements are likely to return more employees to work, Wallace said.

“;The state will benefit because when our employees have more hours, they have more money to spend on retail and restaurants,”; he said.