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Hawaii Tourism Authority estimates 3 percent drop in 2009 arrivals

Written by editor

If current tourism patterns continue, state tourism officials expect the number of visitors coming to Hawaii this year to reach about 6.5 million, or about 207,000 fewer people than last year.

If current tourism patterns continue, state tourism officials expect the number of visitors coming to Hawaii this year to reach about 6.5 million, or about 207,000 fewer people than last year.

That’s according the Hawaii Tourism Authority’s chief of marketing, David Uchiyama. He said that would be about 3 percent down from the previous year but pretty close to 2003-04 levels.

The global economic crisis has plunged tourism โ€” along with many other industries โ€” into a decline. Last year, the state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism logged 10.8 percent fewer visitors. So far, that agency is projecting a decline this year of just under 6 percent.

Uchiyama provided recent statistics to about 250 industry members attending yesterday’s Spring Marketing Update at the Hawaii Convention Center.

The agency will make similar presentations to about 70 people on Maui today and then in west Hawaii.

Uchiyama said there are bright spots among the gloom. He cited stabilized numbers of air seats between Hawaii and the mainland.

At a meeting this month, he learned that US Airways plans to add two flights a week later this year to Maui and Kauai. He said that will double the current flights for that carrier.

Uchiyama also said WestJet is looking at adding flights from Canada in the fourth quarter of this year and into the new year.

And he said the Delta/Northwest merger could result in fewer flights since both carriers separately fly here. But Uchiyama said a new Atlanta-Hawaii flight is being planned.

He cited these positive factors: oil prices have dropped, the honeymoon market is up especially from the high-spending Japan market, and the timeshare market is providing a steady flow of visitors.

He acknowledged that Hawaii battles with the “boondoggle effect” in which companies or organizations under scrutiny for financial matters are reluctant to come to the islands because it could be perceived as a junket vacation instead of business.

In the push to separate the state from other sun, sand, and surf destinations, Uchiyama said it’s important to keep cultural integrity and “clearly define what differentiates us from other copycat destinations.”

Takashi Ichikura, executive director of Hawaii Tourism Japan, said the 10.3 percent decline in air seats has hurt but the strength of the yen, popularity of hula, ukulele, and cultural interest will help.

The Tourism Authority’s Asia marketing specialist, Michael Merner, said the tremendous potential expected from easing of travel restrictions for travelers from Korea and China has been muted by the current global economic crisis. Merner said in Korea, the won/dollar exchange rate plunged, making a trip to the US 40 percent more expensive than just six months ago.

While the visa waiver program will improve things, Merner expects it will be two to three years before the number of travelers from Korea doubles. “The impact has been delayed,” he said.

A similar expected big increase in China visitors has been slowed by financial concerns, he said.