Wednesday, August 1, 2001

Hawaii not
alone in feeling
tourism slowdown

The industry is expected to grow
just 1 percent nationwide this year

From staff and wire reports

Hawaii has plenty of company, if not visitors, as travel destinations nationwide see a weak visitor market this summer.

Nationwide, tourism is expected to grow by only 1 percent this year. Experts blame less spending by both business and leisure travelers and the slowing economy.

"In the business travel market, the higher-ups are telling people to be a little more careful with their money. It's not the free spending that we've had in the past," said Cathy Keefe, a spokeswoman for the Travel Industry Association of America. "In the leisure market, there's cost-cutting. People are staying with friends and relatives. They're driving instead of flying."

Hawaii, an almost totally leisure market with an economy heavily dependent on tourism, is already feeling the pinch.

Figures for the first half of this year show no growth from last year in visitor days, the number of visitors multiplied by the average length of stay.

But that was a pretty good achievement, given the national picture, state officials say.

Hawaii has been able to maintain the overall performance of last year, which was a record year for its tourism business, despite the slumping economy in many of its market areas, said Seiji Naya, director of the Hawaii Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism.

Visitors from some areas, such as California, are actually up from last year. Hawaii had 5.3 percent more travelers from California in the first half of 2001 than the same period in 2000.

From all sources, the first-half Hawaii visitor total of 3.41 million tourists was down 1.5 percent from 3.46 million in the first half of 2000, but the average length of stay increased slightly.

Nationwide, most major tourism indicators were down for the first five months of the year, according to the travel industry study. Airplane load factors were down 1.7 percent and hotel and motel occupancy rates are down 2.2 percent.

Orlando -- the nation's most popular travel destination -- saw a 10 percent increase in visitors in 1999, but had 43.2 million visitors last year, an increase of only 1.6 percent, according to figures released this week by the Orlando/Orange County Convention and Visitors Bureau.

That's the smallest increase since the bureau switched to its current data collection system in 1992, and the picture isn't expected to get any prettier in 2001.

"Due to the economic situation, we wouldn't expect that the hospitality industry wouldn't be affected at all," said Danielle Saba Courtenay, a vice president of the visitors bureau.

In Orlando, the biggest decline was seen in single-day visits, which dropped off by 11 percent. Unlike in the two previous years, when Disney and Universal opened new theme parks, there were no major expansions in Orlando in 2000.

No new major attractions are planned this year, either.

Other tourist hot spots are noticing the economic slowdown.

Las Vegas' visitor attendance is flat for the first five months of this year, despite several new shows and attractions. Hotel and motel occupancy is down 1.7 percent when compared to the same time period as last year, although convention business remains strong.

In Los Angeles, hotel and motel occupancy rates are down 3.7 percent for the first five months of the year, the Los Angeles Convention and Visitors Bureau said.

In San Francisco, the occupancy rate is down 9.7 percent.

New Orleans, however, has seen its hotel and motel occupancy rate jump to 73 percent during the first four months of 2001, compared to 70 percent at the same time last year.

In June, overnight stays at national parks were down 1.2 percent from the previous year. Experts say the silver lining is that airlines and hotels have started slashing prices.

"For the consumer, it pays to check around," Keefe said. "It's a consumer's market right now."

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