Sunday, October 14, 2001

Remember 9-11-01


After the Fall

Tourism may be off its low, but
it's a long way to normal

By Russ Lynch

Little by little, Hawaii's tourism industry is creeping back and there are some encouraging signs for the coming weeks, such as low mainland-Hawaii air fares and national survey results saying a high percentage of leisure travelers still plan to make their trips.

But a month after the terrorist attacks there is no sign the massive decline in travel from Japan is easing and travel executives caution that there are still enormous unknowns, such as the possibility of more terrorist attacks.

"There are some things that are clear and some things that are still evolving," said Rob Solomon, senior vice president for marketing of Outrigger Hotels & Resorts.

"What is clear is that the reservations trend looking forward has definitely turned positive and has been creeping up on a day-by-day basis," Solomon said.

According to another Outrigger spokesman, Jim Austin, the company's Hawaii properties have not had a day below 60 percent occupancy in October.

Tourists swim at Kuhio Beach last week. How long it
will take for the visitor industry to rebound is hard to say.

"That's still below what we should be but it indicates that we've improved over that short-term reaction after the terrorists' attack," Austin said.

Solomon said the company is still getting cancellations, for near-term as well as long-term bookings, despite an upturn in new reservations, though he thinks some may be "latent cancellations." Those would come from people who booked future visits without having made a firm decision to come and are now backing out, he said.

"Initially, there was a surge of cancellations," from near-term travelers whose plans were put on hold, Solomon said.

Now people are re-evaluating, watching the news of the retaliations in Afghanistan and other events, as well as worrying about the economy, Solomon said.

The lower air fares posted in recent days by most airlines should encourage people to come to Hawaii, he said.

A similar experience has been going on at Pleasant Hawaiian Holidays, the California-based travel packager that has specialized in Hawaii since the 1950s and brings some 400,000 travelers to the islands each year.

"We saw an immediate drop in calls and bookings (after the Sept. 11 disaster and the three-day grounding of the nation's aircraft)," said Ken Phillips, a spokesman at the company's Westlake Village headquarters.

"We pulled almost all of our advertising for the first two weeks following the disaster," Phillips said.

"When we began again, we launched our 'Keep 'em flying' eight-day Honolulu package from Los Angeles or San Francisco at $359 per person, double occupancy, including air, hotel, lei, transfers, orientation breakfast, tote bag and more to help stimulate travel.

"In the week (before last) we had one of our busiest weeks ever and sold nearly 8,000 passengers," Phillips said. Three-quarters of them are booked for October and November, he said.

Last week slowed a bit with the attacks on Afghanistan but the momentum is picking up, Phillips said.

"This will not be a banner quarter or year for Hawaii travel. However, Americans will not be intimidated. They will continue to fly and Hawaii still represents a safe harbor, America's Paradise," Phillips said. "Especially from the West Coast, traffic is increasing almost daily."

That kind of positive comment is not coming from those doing business with the Japanese. "It's still very slow coming back from Japan," said Sharon Weiner, group vice president of administration at DFS Hawaii, which depends on Japanese almost entirely for its duty-free business at the airports and nearly as heavily for its Galleria retail mall in Waikiki.

"The last two weeks in October don't look promising," she said. "We're predicting October will be down 45 percent from the same period of last year for Japanese arrivals."

According to passenger arrival figures from the state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism, arrivals from Japan totaled 93,450 from the day airlines resumed flying, Sept. 15, through Thursday. That was a decline of 35.7 percent, or 51,830 people, from 145,280 in the same part of last year.

Weiner said DFS makes its own calculations and they come out a little different. For example, DFS tries not to count young children as arrivals, because they don't contributor to spending patterns.

There is no doubt that the Japanese business is down, however, and most segments of the tourist industry are hoping they will start to turn upwards soon, perhaps as a result of last week's high-level Hawaii tourism mission to Japan.

"The good news in Hawaii is we have what people want, a relatively safe and peaceful, happy place that is still American," Outrigger's Solomon said.

David Preece, Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau vice president for North America, said domestic passenger count is on the rise.

"They are spending a little bit less, but the numbers are climbing a bit back up, and we anticipate a fairly decent holiday season," Preece said.

Australian hair salon operator Peter Perkins, stopping Friday afternoon in a Waikiki bar mostly occupied by local residents, had some comments that pretty much sum up the frequent-visitor feelings.

"My wife's been here eight times. I've been here five times. Our son comes every year. We're pretty much Hawaiian freaks," Perkins said.

Perkins said he and his family were not about to be put off by the actions of some terrorists. Their bookings were made four months ago.

"We were horrified when we saw the first hit and then the second hit" on the World Trade Center, Perkins said. "We can't let that rule us, we just can't."

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