Momentum building on Big Island

By Shane Nelson

Still lagging behind the rest of the state’s tourism industry recovery, the Big Island of Hawaii has now seen visitor arrivals grow in 10 of the last 11 months, pushing hotel occupancies higher and spurring some to forecast a much brighter 2013 for the island. 

Insight“We are experiencing double-digit growth in terms of occupancy during the second half of 2012 over the first half,” said Steve Lindburg, general manager at the Sheraton Kona Resort & Spa. “And we expect somewhere between 10% and 12% growth in terms of occupancy next year.

"Plus we’re also seeing some solid performance in terms of average rate," he said. "Things are definitely looking much healthier.”

Total visitor arrivals jumped 14% year over year on the Big Island in October, according to the Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA), while total spending there climbed 10.3%, to $128.9 million.

Arrivals were up during the month from all four of the destination’s largest visitor markets: U.S. West, up 7.4%; U.S. East, up 8.8%; Japan, up 29.2%; and Canada, up 10.4%.

Although occupancy was just 61.4% across the Big Island in October, hotels there did enjoy a 6.5 percentage-point occupancy boost during the month, the largest among all the Hawaiian Islands, and have recorded occupancy percentage increases five months straight, according to Hospitality Advisors and Smith Travel Research statistics.

George Applegate, the executive director of the Big Island Visitors Bureau, attributed the recent surge in visitors to three factors.

“Increased airlift is number one,” he explained. “Number two is: We’ve got strong numbers from the East Coast to our island thanks to easier access. And number three is the new branding by the HTA and the [Hawaii Visitors and Conventions Bureau], which really means a lot.”

The marketing campaign, showcasing the unique personalities of each of the Hawaiian Islands, is now more than a year old, and according to Applegate, has helped the Big Island of Hawaii battle some surprising misconceptions.

“In one marketing research survey I saw, 46% or 47% of those surveyed thought the Big Island was Oahu, because they figured that’s where the all the big buildings and big cities were,” he said. “With the HVCB’s new branding, people know more about us.”

Applegate also said the range of national media interest in the Big Island lava flow that’s currently oozing into the Pacific Ocean has had a noticeable impact on bookings in recent months.

But it may well be booming business elsewhere in Hawaii that’s proving most helpful.

“Waikiki is so busy that we’re starting to feel a little bit of compression to the neighbor islands,” Lindburg said. “So we’re happy they’re doing really well, because that’s helping us.”

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