Friday, March 30, 2001

Tourists who packed Waikiki's beaches last year
stayed away in February.

State tourism
shows signs of softening

Experts cite a 4.4% decline
in arrivals, shorter stays
and reduced spending

By Russ Lynch

February tourist arrivals fell 4.4 percent from record numbers posted a year ago, worrying visitor industry experts that the tourism market is turning soft.

And the head count alone doesn't tell the whole story. Visitors are also trimming their length of stay and appear to be spending less, industry officials said.

"Last year January was way down because of Y2K worries," said David Carey, chief executive of Outrigger Enterprises Inc., parent of Outrigger Hotels & Resorts. What followed was an incredibly good February 2000, Carey said.

That could explain some of the year-over-year decline, but there are some real worries about what is happening now, he said.

"The number that concerns me a lot is the international arrivals," Carey said. "Visitor days are down, arrivals are down."

The latest numbers, issued yesterday by the state Department of Business, Economic Development & Tourism, show the number of arrivals from foreign airports declined 6.6 percent from February 2000. International visitors also spent less time here, an average of 6.98 days compared with 7.16 days the prior year.

The combination brought a 9 percent decline in international visitor days, the average length of stay times the number of arrivals. That number is a big indicator of visitor spending opportunities, and the decline has the tourism industry worried about income.

"It doesn't look good," said Keith Vieira, vice president and director of Hawaii operations for Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide Inc., which operates the Sheraton and Westin hotels.

Visitors from the mainland also cut their stay to an average of 10.17 days, from 10.32 days in February 2000. Combined with a 3.1 percent decline in domestic visitor arrivals, domestic visitor days fell 4.5 percent.

Outlook down

Future bookings are soft. A late Easter should help, coming in mid-April and extending many spring break trips, but some hard work will be needed to keep 2001 ahead of last year.

"Our primary market, the U.S. West, is soft both in current and in future bookings, so we have a lot of concern there," Vieira said. "The U.S. East seems to be OK -- not extremely strong, but up a bit. The Japan passenger count is relatively flat but with the weakness in the yen, we're seeing some softness in their spending habits.

"About a month ago I was concerned. Now I'm very concerned," Vieira said.

Tourism for all of 2001 definitely looks like it will be below 2000, he said.

One company in the Hawaii tourist trade that sees nothing but positive numbers is Pleasant Hawaiian Holidays, based in Westlake Village, Calif.

Its recently developed charter flights from New York and Chicago, building on already successful use of charters and commercial flights from the West Coast, are helping numbers rise, said company spokesman Ken Phillips.

"Our revenue (for the year) through April is projected to be about 14.4 percent ahead of last year, which was our third consecutive record year, and we have every expectation that at least the first half of this year will be positive," he said.

The state government is taking a slightly positive stance on the numbers for the first two months of the year, which saw total visitor arrivals increase 1.2 percent, although visitor days were down 0.9 percent.

"We are not particularly disappointed with the visitor statistics when we remember that February 2000 was the strongest February ever," said Seiji Naya, DBEDT director. Many visitors who might have traveled to the islands in January put off their trips until February because of worries about the possible effects of the coming of the new millennium, he said.

A total of 554,688 people came to the islands last month, compared with 580,334 in February last year, a drop of 25,646 visitors.

Arrivals on Oahu were down 4.9 percent. Kauai arrivals were flat, Maui was down 5.5 percent, Lanai was down 2.6 percent and the Big Island had a 1.8 percent decline in February arrivals. Only Molokai -- where the state says the size of the tourist sample used in the monthly survey is too small to be really meaningful -- showed an increase, 18 percent over February 2000.

E-mail to Business Editor

Text Site Directory:
[News] [Business] [Features] [Sports] [Editorial] [Do It Electric!]
[Classified Ads] [Search] [Subscribe] [Info] [Letter to Editor]

© 2001 Honolulu Star-Bulletin