Hawaii losses offset by 7.2% jump in Maui tourist numbers

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A jump in the number of visitors traveling to Maui in February helped offset declines on the other major islands, the Hawai’i Tourism Authority reported yesterday.

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A jump in the number of visitors traveling to Maui in February helped offset declines on the other major islands, the Hawai’i Tourism Authority reported yesterday.

Maui’s increase of 7.2 percent from February 2009 was the second consecutive monthly increase in visitors to the Valley Isle, one of the harder hit islands during the state’s lengthy visitor industry downturn. It also was the first time since 2005 that Maui experienced back-to-back increases in visitor arrivals, the HTA said.

Visitor arrivals statewide by air and ship edged up 0.7 percent to 531,094 in February compared with the same month a year earlier. Those arriving by air spent $850 million, about $3 million less than in February 2009, the HTA reported.

Mike McCartney, HTA president and chief executive officer, said he was “encouraged” by the growth in arrivals and spending for Maui. Efforts to get more visitors to the Neighbor Islands is a key component of the HTA’s strategic plan, he said.

Lāna’i, which accounts for a sliver of the state’s tourism business, was the only other island to report an increase in visitors. Arrivals fell by 1 percent on O’ahu, 3 percent on Kaua’i and 0.7 percent on the Big Island.

Visitor arrivals and spending, which declined for most of 2008 and 2009, began showing signs of recovery at the end of last year.

An increase in the number of flights from the Mainland and Canada, which began last fall and is projected to continue through spring, has helped to satisfy pent-up demand from travelers wanting to visit the Islands, authorities say.

In February, the total air seat capacity from Canada rose 37.6 percent compared with the same month last year, with additional flights from Calgary, Alberta, and Victoria and Vancouver in British Columbia, according to the HTA.

Hotels also have shown signs of improvement, with occupancy rates rising in January for the fourth time in five months. However, some of that is the result of price discounting, which has hurt overall hotel revenues. The average daily rate of $176.88 in January was 10 percent below the year-earlier rate.

On Maui, from the slopes of Haleakalā to the reefs of Molokini, many businesses with visitor-related activities are reporting brisk sales.

Thomas Kafsack, who runs Surfing Goat Dairy with his wife, Eva-Maria, in Kula, has seen double-digit increases in visitors every month so far this year.

Surfing Goat, which began a bed-and-breakfast and horse-boarding stable in 2002, has grown into a popular visitor attraction and producer of award-winning goat cheese.

“This month has been crazy. And we can tell from all the orders we’re getting from the restaurants and hotels that business there is good, too,” Thomas Kafsack said. Among the hotels he supplies are the Hyatt and Four Seasons.

Surfing Goat has averaged more than 1,000 visitors a month since the start of the year, a 23 percent increase over the same time last year, he said.

A year ago Lahaina Divers sometimes would have only enough customers to take out one of its two 46-foot Newton dive boats, said General Manager Tim Means.

“Now were doing a lot more double boat trips in the morning than a year ago. And the passenger load on each boat is higher,” he said.

Means said the company employs about 20 workers and is gearing up to increase hiring.

Kate Zolezzi, general manager of the popular Maui Ocean Center in Ma’alaea, said traffic has gotten heavier in recent months.

“I think a lot of it is the result of having more flights and more direct flights finally. We’re still seeing some hesitancy to spend, but under the circumstances think that is to be expected.”

Visitors from the state’s single-biggest market, the U.S. West, fell by 0.3 percent in February to 383,698. Traffic from the U.S. East fell 5.5 percent to 259,631. The number of visitors from Japan rose 1 percent to 183,253, while Canadian visitors surged 16.9 percent to 98,439.

There was a 30 percent increase in the number of visitors who came to Hawai’i in February as part of incentive programs provided by their employers. But, at just more than 10,000 visitors, the category is a relatively small share of overall arrivals.

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Editor in chief is Linda Hohnholz.