Hotels fill up
to 3-year high

Tourism and visitor industry officials
welcome a survey that indicates
occupancy rates are at their best
for any month since February 2001

Hawaii's visitor industry stepped further out of the shadow of 9/11 in February as statewide hotel occupancy reached the highest level since well before the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.


February is typically one of the strongest months of the year, but the 84.9 percent occupancy rate this year marked a solid 5.8 percent increase over February 2003, according to the latest monthly survey by PKF Hawaii. It was the highest result for any month since February 2001.

Industry experts said the solid data could be the result of pent-up demand by mainland visitors who curtailed travel last year because of the invasion of Iraq.

"That's really high," Bank of Hawaii chief economist Paul Brewbaker said of the occupancy rate. "We had been expecting this year to finally shake off the baggage from 9/11 and Iraq and this is a sign that may be happening."

The occupancy figures coincide with state data showing that visitor arrivals from the mainland United States jumped 10 percent to 341,647 in February from the year-earlier period.

Hawaii hotel executives said Americans who put off travel last year may be making up for it now, and see Hawaii as a "safe" destination amid lingering concern over terrorism. They also cited chilly mainland weather and the dollar's recent weakness against the euro, which has made Europe more expensive.

All islands posted year-on-year increases. Oahu led the way in February at 89 percent occupancy. Maui's occupancy rate grew 4.9 percent to 85.35 percent, while Big Island occupancy reached 74.3 percent, a gain of 4.6 percent.

But Kauai enjoyed the largest percentage increase, up 9.4 percent to 83.6 percent.

Sue Kanoho, executive director of the Kauai Visitors Bureau, said Garden Isle occupancy was boosted by recent conversions of hotels into time-shares, which left the island with fewer hotel rooms. She also said her bureau has been focusing its marketing efforts on first-time visitors, who generally stay longer.

"The first-time visitors have been working really well for us," she said.

Data on Japanese visitors continued to disappoint, however. Visitor arrivals from Japan slipped 3.8 percent year-on-year in February to 115,855.

"That's puzzling. I'm not sure why that's happening," said Brewbaker. "Travel from Asia was crimped by (worries about) SARS a year ago, but we should have seen a bounce back up by now."

However, hotel executives said they expect continued good news in the months ahead.

"It's going to be a good year," said Frank Lavey, general manager of the Hyatt Regency Waikiki, who says advanced bookings through this summer are higher than last year.


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