Tuesday, June 29, 1999

Associated Press file photo; Star-Bulletin graphic, Source: State DBEDT


Last month was flat as the
sharp decline in Japanese
visitors is offset by an
increase from the mainland

By Russ Lynch


Tourist arrivals numbers showed no improvement in May, despite a healthy increase in traffic from the mainland, keeping overall year-to-date figures slightly behind last year's pace.

A total of 524,760 tourists visited Hawaii last month, down 0.2 percent from the 525,720 who visited in May 1998, according to a monthly report issued today by the state Department of Business and Economic Development and Tourism.

Visitor industry officials say the outlook for the summer is mixed. Although they expect a slight increase in business through July and August and a few express optimism, the picture is unclear because tourists these days wait as late as possible to book.

"We live in a last-minute world," said Rob Solomon, senior vice president for marketing at Outrigger Hotels & Resorts, which operates about 20 hotels in Waikiki.

Japanese business is still down, although Solomon thinks it could come back. "Hopefully, it's bottomed out, but that's clearly a struggle," he said. "Those of our properties that historically are more dependent on the Japanese market are still hurting."

Eastbound arrivals in May were down by 8.2 percent compared with May 1998, according to the state. That was a loss of 16,170 people from the Asia-Pacific countries, mostly Japan, more than countering a gain of 15,209 in westbound arrivals, mostly from the mainland.

Westbound arrivals were up 4.6 percent, but the overall result was a decline of 0.2 percent in total arrivals.

A hoped-for increase in Japanese travel for the annual Golden Week period in early May did not materialize.

"We are pleased that the westbound market has shown strength," said Seiji Naya, DBEDT director. "However, we are disappointed that Golden Week did not have a more noticeable impact on eastbound arrivals."

DBEDT officials said they were encouraged by the fact that both U.S. and Asia-Pacific travelers were staying longer than they were a year ago. The average stay last month was 8.16 days, up 2.9 percent from 7.93 days in May 1998.

That resulted in an increase of 2.7 percent in visitor days, to 4.28 million last month from 4.17 million in May 1998. Visitor days -- the number of visitors multiplied by how long they stay -- is important to economists because it shows how much opportunity tourists have to spend money.

The DBEDT figures show overall tourist arrivals for the first five months of this year down 0.1 percent at 2,781,300, compared with 2,784,480 in the year to date last year. Looking ahead, some of the most optimistic comments came from Pleasant Hawaiian Holidays, which provided Hawaii tours for mainlanders and has done well from the boom in westbound travel. "This July, we're expecting room-night increases of over 20 percent. August is up more than 37 percent in room-nights," said Ken Phillips, a spokesman for Pleasant Hawaiian. . Keith Vieira, vice president and director of Hawaii operations for Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide Inc., said bookings are good for the major neighbor islands.

"Waikiki, in the U.S. market, looks slightly ahead, but with the Japanese we just can't tell," Vieira said. Exactly what that market is doing won't be known for about 30 days, he added

"Right now we're fairly optimistic that the summer (total business) will be a slight increase over last year," said Vieira, whose company manages the Sheraton hotels in the islands.

Hawaiian Airlines Inc. said its summer advance bookings are strong, boosted by good mainland business. "Our forecasts show bookings ahead of pace from last year at the same time, not only for the summer but into the fall," said spokesman Keoni Wagner.

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