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Thursday, August 31, 2000

Hawaii tourism
on record pace

Visitor arrivals were up 2.8%
in July and are likely to top
7 million in a year for
the first time

By Rob Perez

Hawaii's tourist count continued its record-setting pace for 2000 as visitor arrivals in July were the highest for any month this year and the fifth-highest monthly total ever, the state says.

July's visitor tally hit 658,820, up 2.8 percent from the same month a year earlier, according to Department of Business, Economic Development & Tourism figures released yesterday.

Art In the first seven months of the year, more than 4.1 million people visited the islands, an increase of 4.7 percent from the same period last year. If that pace is maintained, it would surpass the 3.8 percent increase the state is predicting for 2000 and top 7 million visitors for the first time.

The rise in tourism traffic is translating into booming business at major hotel chains, and hoteliers say they expect to finish the year in great shape, judging from advanced bookings.

"Even if it slows down a little, we're still going to have a gangbuster year," said Loren Shim, assistant vice president of sales for Aston Hotels & Resorts, one of the state's largest hotel operators.

Aston is expected to finish 2000 with revenue growth around 10 percent -- the best year ever for the chain, Shim said.

Sally Proctor, executive vice president for Marc Resorts, which has 18 hotels and condos around the state, said her company also will finish the year with increases in occupancy and average daily room rates.

Even fall bookings from Asia visitors are up at Marc's Waikiki properties -- a trend that runs counter to what's happening at many other hotels in the state's main tourist district. Proctor said the increase is the result of substantially more advertising the company has done in Asia, plus the fact that Marc had a small percentage of Asia visitors in the past.

"It's been a good year," she said. "It's better than I expected."

The year-to-date numbers show that besides an increase in visitor arrivals statewide, the average daily census -- basically how many tourists are here on any given day -- was up 4.2 percent. In addition, total visitor days rose 4.7 percent, while the average length of stay was unchanged at 8.99 days, according to the state data.

The number of airline seats coming into Hawaii also was up 8.1 percent through July, a reflection of carriers adding more flights to meet growing demand. Canadian Airlines, for instance, added two flights a week from Toronto to Honolulu and started a daily flight in July between Sydney and Honolulu.

All islands showed small increases in arrivals in July, except for Maui, down 3.2 percent, and Lanai, off 25.7 percent from July 1999. Arrivals on domestic flights jumped 7.2 percent in July, but visitors coming via international flights fell 1.5 percent. Visitors from Japan dropped 1.8 percent.

Higher domestic air fares and the booming U.S. economy has meant that westbound visitors typically are more upscale and tend to stay at upscale properties, hotel officials say.

That has made marketing the lower-end hotels more of a challenge, according to Aston's Shim, who used a car analogy to describe the situation. "Instead of buying the low-end model of the car, people are buying something a little more expensive," he said.

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