Hawaii tourism strong, and goals evolve

Published: Jan. 24, 2013 at 9:12 AM HST|Updated: Jan. 24, 2013 at 9:46 AM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - As tourism fuels recovery in Hawaii, the state's tourism marketers are focusing on getting more visitors to sample neighbor islands, where hotels have more free rooms.

On the eve of the wrap-up report on visitor industry performance in 2012, David Uchiyama of the Hawaii Tourism Authority told an audience of 600 real estate brokers and agents Wednesday at the Hawaii Convention Center what to expect in 2013.

"What we're focusing on is the daily spend, and the distribution among islands," Uchiyama said. "Kauai averaged 67 percent full in 2012, and the Big Island was at 63 percent, so they have surplus capacity we can market."

Currency exchange rates favorable to visitors from Japan, Australia and Canada has fueled spending, Uchiyama said, but the more fundamental cause of the renewed prosperity is air capacity - enough new flights to bring airlift close to where it was before the almost simultaneous collapse of Aloha Airlines and ATA Airlines in 2008.

Economist Paul Brewbaker, who also spoke at the forecast event, agreed, and said on a seasonally adjusted basis the return to 2008 capacity levels has already occurred. He was bullish about what to expect this year in terms of visitor increases.

"Whatever people say, double it or triple it," Brewbaker said. "We went from 7 million to 8 million in a year."

The official visitor count for 2012 was to be announced the following day, but was widely expected to be, at a minimum, close to 8 million. The Tourism Authority is shooting for 8.1 million visitors this year and 8.4 million in 2014.

Uchiyama, the second-ranking official at the authority after CEO Mike McCartney, said there were still things to work on, such as boosting the load factors on the new nonstops from New York and Washington D.C. launched, respectively, by Hawaiian Airlines and United Airlines. He also said he did niot think Southwest Airlines would get to Hawaii this year. But he was optimistic about more visitors from Japan and revealed Hawaii officials are also talking to both Cathay Pacific and Singapore Airlines about future direct flights from Southeast Asia.

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