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"It will be difficult this year to sustain more arrivals than we had last year over that peak summer period ... But I hope we'll see increases in visitor spending. That's our goal."
Hawaii Tourism Authority marketing director
After a record high for domestic arrivals in March, U.S. visitors dropped off 6.3 percent in April to 531,342 from 548,599 a year earlier, according to monthly figures from the state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism. International arrivals rose 5.8 percent to 151,081 from 142,766. Japan arrivals were up 1.2 percent to 106,012 from 104,738.
Despite the decline last month in overall arrivals, visitor spending in April rose 2.8 percent to $769.9 million. Combining March and April, total spending increased 11.3 percent to more than $1.7 billion.
Frank Haas, the Hawaii Tourism Authority's marketing director, said tourism officials are paying more attention to visitor spending, especially with the summer season coming up.
"The hotels were nearly full last summer," he said. "There was not a lot of room for more people so a relevant measurement is visitor spending. It will be difficult this year to sustain more arrivals than we had last year over that peak summer period, so in June and July we won't see big increases in visitor arrivals. But I hope we'll see increases in visitor spending. That's our goal."
Even with visitor arrivals declining in April, statewide hotel occupancy rose to 75.3 percent last month from 74.2 percent a year earlier, according to Hospitality Advisors LLC. The average daily room rate increased to $157.83 from $153.59 while revenue per available room rose to $118.81 from $114.01.
However, Oahu was the only island to show an occupancy gain. Waikiki occupancy was 76.3 percent, up from 72.8 percent a year earlier.
Part of the occupancy increase can be attributed to the loss of hotel rooms in the market, Hospitality Advisors said, since some properties have converted to condominiums and Outrigger Enterprises closed several hotels as part of its Beach Walk redevelopment.
Ross Scott, president of Maui-based Sunshine Helicopters Inc., said it made sense that an early Easter and spring break led to weaker April numbers.
"I think that's what the deal is because we were really strong in March," Scott said. The company also does business in Hilo and Kona on the Big Island.
"Our Marches were very good and it seems like May is strong ... I think it's going to be stronger than last year," Scott said.
This year's April downturn was anticipated by Castle Resorts & Hotels, said Alan Mattson, senior vice president of sales and marketing.
"We put action plans into place, knowing this would be a softer month than last year," he said.
"We saw excellent growth in April. ... A lot of it was working with our online partnerships -- online travel agents, putting advance purchase specials in place ... it really was a home run for us."
Hilton Hawaiian Village in Waikiki also saw increases.
"While March business was up considerably, due to spring break and an early Easter, April was up also at the Hilton Hawaiian Village, primarily due to an increase in the meetings and convention market, as well as business travel," said Peter Schall, retiring senior vice president of Hilton Hawaii and managing director of the resort.