Hawaii tourism outlook brightens on blizzards, strong yen

By Howard Dicus - bio | email

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Hawaii arrivals by air are up significantly so far this year, and the combination of a hot yen and cold weather may keep the uptrend going through the entire first quarter.

January saw 648,295 arrivals by air, up 10.4 percent from the same month last year, the Hawaii Department of Business, Economic Development & Tourism reports. That's more than 60,000 extra arrivals.

Domestic visitor traffic is up 3 percent to Honolulu, 18 percent to Kauai, 21 percent to Maui, and 37 percent to the Big Island, compared to January 2010, while Japanese arrivals are up 9.2 percent and non-Japanese foreign arrivals are up 17 percent.

Hawaii Pacific University's Jerry Agrusa released his annual economic impact study on the Honolulu Marathon Wednesday, reporting that the race, despite fewer runners in December, generated $106 million in spending, up $6 million from the previous year, and was responsible for $5 million in state tax revenues.

Waikiki retailers report Japanese visitors are spending more because of the strong yen. A few years ago it took as many as 115 yen to buy a dollar. On Wednesday it took 82 yen. The yen is stronger now than it was during the Marathon. Also, both the Canadian and Australian dollars are within pennies of parity with the American dollar.

Outrigger Hotels & Resorts, a locally-based hotel chain with many of its 50 properties in the islands, reported Wednesday that three of its biggest Hawaii resorts, the Outrigger Reef on the Beach in Waikiki, the Outrigger Waipouli Beach Resort on Kauai, and Maui's Outrigger Palms at Wailea, are already booked close to capacity for the entire first quarter.

"We're excited to see such a high volume of bookings so early," said Rob Solomon, chief marketing officer.

A historically bad winter on the mainland may indeed be generating bookings going forward, but it has wrought havoc for people who already booked Hawaii vacations and have had trouble getting here. Airlines canceled more than 6,000 flights Wednesday alone including Hawaii nonstops from Newark and Chicago, and hundreds of Hawaii-bound passengers missed connections on their way to the islands.

Airlines canceled flights early to a greater extent than ever before, citing the operational difficulties of planes getting stuck in snowbound cities; marketing experts said early cancellations were also intended to mitigate bad publicity on social media as people express their angst at sleeping in an airport terminal on Facebook and Twitter.

But airline experts said another factor was new FAA rules which can fine airlines tens of thousands of dollars per passenger when those passengers are stuck on the tarmac for more than two hours.

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