Kauai edged out both Oahu and Maui in visitor spending and arrivals growth for 2011, driving the Aloha State to its best 12-month performance since 2007.
"We've turned a corner, and I really do think things are moving in the right direction," said Sue Kanoho, executive director for the Kauai Visitors Bureau.
The Garden Isle welcomed more than 1 million visitors last year, an increase of 6.3% over 2010's total, and saw visitor spending jump 18.9%, to $1.3 billion, Kanoho said.
Kauai hotels also enjoyed the largest percentage increase in occupancy statewide, finishing the year up 4.2 points, to 63.5%, while Garden Isle properties posted the destination's biggest gains in revenue per available room (RevPAR), seeing it surge 17.2%, to $129.36 a night, according to a year-end report by Hospitality Advisors.
"We're seeing a recovery across the state, but we see Kauai coming back a bit faster because they have newer inventory," explained Joseph Toy, Hospitality Advisors' president and CEO, citing recent renovations at the Sheraton Kauai Resort, the Grand Hyatt Kauai and the Kauai Marriott Resort.
"And then there's the St. Regis Princeville, which opened during the downturn and is in some respects still there to be discovered," Toy added. "So in essence, we've got some new products there that have been completed and are able to ride the tide of the recovery." New kid on the block
Business has been solid at Kauai's newest property, the 85-unit Koloa Landing at Poipu Beach Wyndham Grand Resort, which opened on the island's south shore in December 2010.
"Since June 15 last year, we've not dipped below 70%," said Jeffery Zogg, acting general manager at Koloa Landing and vice president for the Azul Hospitality Group, the property's management company. "And we did really well over October and November, which traditionally [is] a softer shoulder period. We saw 80% occupancy during those two months and sold out over the holidays and then had a record-breaking February."
Koloa Landing features one-, two- and three-bedroom condominium villas outfitted with washers and dryers, multiple bathrooms and cleverly designed sliding-glass doors that enable guests to completely open much of the living space to the outdoors.
"The biggest segment that we've attracted has been families," Zogg said. "And we've done really, really well with multiple couples. Most of our units sleep six to eight people, so we're really a great fit for folks traveling together."
Already home to a pair of Poipu's nicest pools, the property recently began work on an additional building that will include another 12 to 13 villas, a new fitness center and an in-house spa featuring six treatment rooms. Zogg expects the project to finish up early next year and said the construction's impact on the rest of the resort has been minimal, noting the property is offering a 20% discount on rooms overlooking the building site.
"Actually, they're the biggest-selling units that we've had in the last three months," he added.
. Hollywood lends a hand
Both Zogg and Kanoho said Kauai's visitor industry benefited substantially from positive press last year, including an unusual amount of media focus surrounding several films shot on the Garden Isle.
"I think the movies helped a lot," Kanoho explained. "Having four major feature films come and shoot was huge as far as the economic benefit in the moment, and then the benefit that comes after with the marketing of the movies, their releases and even the DVD releases."
Kanoho thinks the success of Fox Searchlight's Oscar-winning "The Descendants," in which George Clooney plays a Hawaii land baron trying to reconnect with his daughters, might be the most valuable to Kauai because the destination plays a starring role.
"So many times we're someplace else," she said. "We're the Philippines, Vietnam or some other tropical destination. Rarely are we ourselves, and that's what we were in 'The Descendants.' This is one of those times that it was spelled out: This is Kauai."
The Kauai Visitors Bureau surveys travelers about the impact films have on their decision to visit the island, and the organization is now tracking "The Descendants" because of the many inquiries the bureau received in recent months regarding the movie's Garden Isle locations.
According to Kanoho, 20% of those surveyed under age 50 said movies influenced their decision to visit Kauai in 2011, mentioning films such as "Pirates of the Caribbean," "South Pacific" and even "Jurassic Park."