Monday, November 1, 1999

Asia slowdown
limits visitor gain
in isles to 0.2%

Westbound tourists remained
strong in September while traffic
from Japan continued declining

Hawaii is rated as top fall pick
for Japanese honeymooners

By Russ Lynch


A drop of more than 10,000 visitors from the Asia-Pacific area, especially Japan, left Hawaii with a flat overall visitor count for September.

Total arrivals for September equaled 530,020, up 1,260, or 0.2 percent, from the September 1998 total of 528,760, according to a report issued today by the state Department of Business, Economic Development & Tourism.

The Japanese dropoff was expected, with that country still recovering from the Asian economic crisis, but a similar dip in travel from California had some tourism executives scratching their heads.

There were 7,480 fewer travelers from California in September vs. the same month last year, almost exactly the same amount of the shortfall in Japanese visitors for the month.

"Naturally when you look at the September numbers it is a bit odd," said David K. Preece, vice president-North American in the Hawaii Visitors & Convention Bureau's marketing team.

"However, when we went back and looked at last year, September was up 17 percent for 1998 vs. 1997," Preece said.

That would mean a decline this year wasn't so bad, but Preece added that the big rise in September 1998 was an anomaly and he is talking to industry people to find out more about what happened.

Arrivals from California in this past September totaled 114,290, down 6.1 percent from 121,770 in September 1998. That made the United States as a whole almost a flat market with a rise of only 0.8 percent in September travelers to Hawaii.

Preece said there were significant advances from U.S. areas outside Hawaii's traditional West Coast markets, such as double-digit increases from East Coast areas, and that year-to-date numbers, even for the West Coast, show strong trends, he said.

That comment was supported by Ken Phillips, a spokesman for Pleasant Hawaiian Travel, which sends several hundred thousand mainlanders to Hawaii each year. For the first eight months of this year, his company's business was up 11.5 percent from Los Angeles and up 5 percent from San Francisco, he said.

Clearly he doesn't see September's California decline coming from his company.

Westbound arrivals from the mainland, Canada and Europe were up 3.7 percent at 323,110 in September, from 311,710 in September 1998. That barely countered a 4.7 percent decline in eastbound traffic to 206,910 arrivals in September from 217,050 a year earlier.

Among eastbound travelers, 171,530 were from Japan, a 4.2 percent decline from 179,020 in the year-earlier month. DBEDT said the Japanese also cut their average length of stay by 2.9 percent.

In its commentary on the numbers, DBEDT stressed the importance of the overall increase in the average length of stay among all tourists of 3.9 percent or nearly one-third of a day, to 8.14 days in September from 7.85 days in the year-earlier month.

The westbound length of stay was up 1 percent for September, DBEDT said.

Among the individual islands, the Big Island was the only one to show a substantial increase in September visitor traffic, up 12.4 percent from last year at 90,130. Oahu was up 2.3 percent with 376,850 arrivals in September. Kauai was up just 0.2 percent from last year at 81,050; Maui was down 6.9 percent at 170,650; Molokai was up 8.1 percent at 4,650; and Lanai was down 3.2 percent, with 6,350 arrivals in September.

Through the first nine months of 1998, there were 5,186,520 visitors to Hawaii, up 1.4 percent from 5,115,870 in the same period of 1998. Nine-months' visitor-days -- the number of visitors times the average length of stay -- rose 3.9 percent to 44.75 million from 43.7 million.

However, eastbound visitor arrivals of 1,798,410 for the latest nine months were down 6.3 percent from 1,920,290 last year. While the westbound nine-month total of 3.39 million tourists was up 192,530, or 6 percent, from 3.2 million last year, the eastbound total of 1.8 million, was down 121,880 from 1.92 million. Almost all of the eastbound decline came from a drop of 121,590 in arrivals from Japan.

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