HONOLULU -- A wave of optimism is swelling in Hawaii's visitor
industry for a growth in U.S. visitors this summer.
Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau president Tony Vericella
told members of the Hawaii Tourism Authority recently that after
months of doom, things are looking up.
"The recovery on the U.S. side is clearly under way, and we have
already reached prior-year levels of visitors," Vericella said. "At
the same time, airline seats reached 100% of prior-year levels
through March. By midsummer, we will have tens of thousands of new
airline seats in the market."
A look at statistics provided by the state shows that visitor
levels for the first three months of 2002 exceeded prior-year
levels in some weeks but were down slightly overall.
Figures for the mainland market indicate visitor numbers from
January through March were down 3.5% compared with the same period
last year. In the first three weeks of April, preliminary figures
show mainland visitors down about 6.5% compared with last year.
Although the number of mainland visitors continues to fluctuate,
captains of the industry here are talking growth and recovery for
Paul Casey, chief executive officer of Hawaiian Airlines, said,
"When we look at advance bookings for the summer, we are five to
six percentage points ahead of last year."
Both Hawaiian Airlines and its rival, Aloha Airlines, added
routes and frequencies to the mainland in recent months.
Hawaiian will start daily Phoenix-Honolulu service using a
767-300 on Oct. 11.
The carrier initiated service from Seattle to Maui on March 15.
Service from Sacramento and Ontario, Calif., to Honolulu will begin
June 7, and flights from Los Angeles and San Francisco to Maui will
start June 15.
Meanwhile, Aloha Airlines will start daily service from Burbank,
Calif., to Honolulu on June 1 and from Vancouver to Honolulu on
Pearl Imada-Iboshi, the state's chief economist, said, based on
visitor numbers, the summer looks good and the spring has been
better than expected.
"The numbers have looked pretty solid for the last few months,"
said Imada-Iboshi. "We've had visitor numbers from the U.S. at
levels 95% to 100% of last year's figures. Spring break in March
was more than 100% of last year's levels."
Imada-Iboshi attributed a renewed vigor in the market to "an
improving U.S. economy as a whole and falling average room rates in
Through March, average room rates were down compared with the
same period last year, from $149 per night to about $141, according
to Joseph Toy, president of Hospitality Advisors in Honolulu, which
supplies the state with hotel statistics.
During some weeks through mid-April, average room rates were
down as much as 20%, Toy said.
All the discounting in the market is resulting in what Toy
labeled a "trade-up in travel," where customers who normally would
be able to afford a midprice hotel now might be able to trade up to
a luxury property due to the drop in prices.
"That is a similar pattern to what we saw in 1994, 1995 and
1996," Toy said.
Cheryl Williams, director of leisure sales and marketing for
Starwood Hotels in Hawaii, said occupancies at Starwood properties
on Molokai, Lanai, Maui and the Big Island will increase 4% to 5%,
to the mid-80% level, this summer, which should be "at or above
"In Waikiki, we're looking at occupancy in the high 70s and low
80s, which will be flat compared with last year."
Williams said she knew the summer season would start to turn
around as far back as December, despite the gloom following Sept.
"I think we started to get our arms wrapped around the situation
in December because all the predictions by economists were for a
second-quarter recovery," she said.