Asian economy cuts into Hawaii's tourism

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HONOLULU -- The Asian economic crisis is cutting deeper into Hawaii's tourism.

Until early last summer, the state attracted more than its normal market share of a declining outbound Japanese market. That has changed, according to the Hawaii Visitors & Convention Bureau.

In October, Hawaii's eastbound arrivals, from Asia and the Pacific, suffered their biggest drop of the year, down 16.8% from the month last year. It was the 11th straight month of eastbound decline. In September -- the last month for which Japanese arrivals are available -- Japanese visitors declined 10.5% -- the largest monthly drop of the year -- while other Asian markets plummeted by 30.6%.

"The Asian economic downturn continues to negatively impact our eastbound counts," said Tony Vericella, HVCB president and chief executive officer. "However, the stronger yen and extended-stay options offered by major wholesalers contributed to longer stays by Japanese in October."

Vericella noted that, after starting the year strong, Japanese arrivals began tapering off and, in the third quarter, fell faster than total outbound Japanese traffic.

The state, he said, captured only 11.8% of total outbound Japanese in September, down from 12.8% in the month last year.

For the first nine months of the year, Hawaii's Japanese arrivals were down 4.5%. In comparison, the 12 million total outbound Japanese were down 6.4%, according to the Japan National Tourist Organization.

For the first 10 months of the year, Hawaii's total visitors numbered 5.6 million, down 1.9% from the period last year. A 5.9% increase in U.S. mainland visitors in the period, to 3 million, was not enough to offset a 10.2% decline in the 2.1 million eastbound arrivals.

Of the major islands, Oahu -- the island most dependent on Asian visitors -- was the only one to show a total visitor decline for the 10 months. Arrivals were: Oahu, 4 million, down 5.5%; Kauai, 869,970, up 2.3%; Maui, 1.9 million, up 0.5%; and the Big Island, 1 million, up 5.2%.

Also, Waikiki hotels suffered most from the Asian decline, showing a 5 percentage-point average occupancy drop in the 10 months, to 76%. According to management consultants PKF-Hawaii, the statewide occupancy dropped only 2.3 percentage points, to 73.7%.

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