Wednesday, March 31, 1999

Visitors to isles gain
despite Asia falloff

By Russ Lynch


Travel to Hawaii was up 2 percent last month compared with February 1998, but Asian visitors continued to lag behind last year, according to state figures.

A surge in tourist traffic from the mainland, up 9 percent from the previous February, kept the total visitor count up despite a drop of 7 percent in eastbound travel from Japan and other Asia-Pacific countries, the state Department of Business, Economic Development & Tourism said yesterday in its monthly report.

Art The Hawaii Visitors & Convention Bureau has mounted a $10 million advertising campaign in Japan to try to turn the eastbound numbers around.

Total tourist traffic for the first two months of 1999 was flat, an increase of only 0.1 percent from January and February of last year, DBEDT said. Overall, 565,040 people came to the islands last month compared with 553,880 in February 1998. Westbound travelers -- from the mainland, Canada and Europe -- totaled 365,480, up 7.7 percent from 339,380 in the year-earlier month. Eastbound travelers -- mostly from Japan but including Taiwan, Korea and other Pacific Rim points -- totaled 199,560, down from 214,500.

Although total arrivals increased slightly, tourism's contribution to the economy in February likely was stronger than the numbers indicate because both westbound and eastbound visitors stayed longer than those who came to the islands last year. That gave them more chances to spend money on hotel rooms, meals, shopping and other activities.

DBEDT, which took over the numbers analysis from the HVCB at the beginning of the year, said westbound visitors stayed an average of 11.63 days last month, an increase of 8.2 percent from 10.75 days in February 1998. Eastbound visitors stayed an average of 5.67 days, a 5 percent increase from 5.4 days in the year-earlier month. That brought the average length of stay for all visitors to 9.53 days, up 9.8 percent from 8.68 days in February 1998.

The increase in visitor days resulted in a 12 percent rise in the daily visitor census, the number of tourists in the islands on an average day, to 192,210, from 171,160.

Oahu, which has been hurt more than the other islands by the loss of business from Japan, had a small decline in travel last month. The neighbor islands had mixed results, with Maui and Kauai showing increases while the others had declines.

There was a 10.7 percent increase in the number of visitors who did not stay overnight on Oahu but instead went directly to a neighbor island destination. Tourist industry officials say that comes from experienced Hawaii travelers, mostly mainlanders who have been to the islands several times before, opting for a favorite spot away from Oahu or looking for something new.

The booming mainland economy helped Hawaii, particularly in bringing in travelers from nontraditional markets in the central United States, said Pearl Imada Iboshi, DBEDT research administrator. While the Pacific region, the longtime leader in travel to Hawaii, provided 43 percent of February's tourists from the mainland, the central states produced 88,000, or 30 percent of the total. That was an increase from 78,000, or 29 percent of last year's mainland total. Iboshi said Hawaii tourism was clearly helped by last year's 3.9 percent growth in U.S. gross domestic product.

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