Hawaii reaping benefits from strong economy

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HONOLULU -- The U.S. economic boom is reaching Hawaii's tourism industry, which had experienced years of stagnation in visitor numbers, according to statistics from the state.

The number of U.S. visitors to Hawaii was up 7.5% for the first seven months of the year compared to last year, according to the state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism.

A total of 2.3 million Americans visited the state through July. Combined U.S. and international visitor numbers were 4.1 million through July, a 4.7% increase over the same period last year.

"If Hawaii can maintain this strong growth during the second half, we will exceed 7 million visitors in 2000," said Seiji Naya, department director.

The last time Hawaii came close to exceeding 7 million was in 1990, when there were 6.9 million visitors, the highest figure ever recorded.

"The resurgent visitor industry is certainly an important part of Hawaii's economic revitalization," said Naya. "We have seen [year over year] increases every month since February."

The increase in U.S. visitors was helped by an increase in airline seat inventory.

Domestic and international scheduled air seats to Hawaii increased by 8.1% in the first seven months of the year, while the number of air seats on domestic flights grew by 14%.

A low inventory of airline seats to Hawaii has been the subject of complaints in the industry here for years.

Airlines have a tough time making money on the long-haul route because there are few business travelers, and many vacationers want to use frequent flyer points to make the trip.

California continues to be the best U.S. source of visitors to Hawaii, with 815,517 coming in the first seven months, an increase of 9.7% compared to the same period last year.

Even though their numbers are small, the number of visitors from New York and New Jersey are increasing. New York sent 67,000 visitors to Hawaii in the first seven months of the year, an increase of 11.6% over last year. New Jersey visitors numbered 38,000 during the same period, an increase of 9.8%.

By island, U.S. and international visitors continue to prefer Oahu. Visitor numbers to Oahu climbed 4% in the first seven months, to 2.8 million.

Kauai saw an increase of 4.1% in the same period, to 646,393. Maui registered an increase of 1.4%, to 1.3 million.

The Big Island recorded an increase of 2.1%, to 766,853. Molokai had a decline of 7.7%, to 35,852, and Lanai a 19.5% increase, to 49,000.

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