Nonstop flights boost Kauai's single-destination status


LIHUE -- With growth in air service, more of Hawaii's visitors from North America are choosing to stay only on Kauai. Last year, Kauai-only westbound visitors increased 14.2% over 1997. For the first four months of this year, the number jumped another 17.3%, according to the state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism.

A view of Kauai's east coast. "I think everybody has more confidence in Kauai as a single destination," said Sue Kanoho, Kauai Visitors Bureau executive director. Kanoho contends that nonstop flights, providing easy accessibility, are putting the island on the map as a single destination.

Kauai lost West Coast service after Hurricane Iniki hit in September 1992 and United pulled its Los Angeles service. Maui and the Big Island saw a growth in nonstop flights, leaving Kauai at a competitive disadvantage.

In June of last year, United resumed service with a daily nonstop Los Angeles-Lihue flight on a 188-passenger 757 aircraft. For the summer, it will operate another weekly nonstop San Francisco-Lihue service, departing Saturdays June 12 through Aug. 28.

Suntrips began a new summer weekly Lihue service from San Francisco April 9. The nonstop Friday flight continues through Aug. 27. Sunquest will have a new weekly summer Los Angeles-Kauai/Kona service, departing Fridays from June 18 through Aug. 27. Both wholesale operations are divisions of North American Leisure Group, which charters Skyservice USA DC-10s. Also, Kauai's arrivals last winter were boosted by additional Lihue charters from Canada by carriers Canada 3000 and Royal Airlines.

Of all the major islands, Kauai is enjoying the biggest percentage visitor growth this year. Kauai had a total of 1,038,830 visitors last year, a 3.1% increase over 1997, with almost a third staying only on Kauai. For the first four months of 1999, its 354,350 total visitors were up 8.4% over the same period last year, compared with a 0.1% drop for the state overall. Westbound visitors, totaling 315,280 (with 114,020 of them Kauai-only), increased 15.2%.

Kauai has an advantage in that it is less dependent on Hawaii's slumping Asian markets than are the other major islands. The westbound increase more than offset the small number of eastbound arrivals -- a 17.3% slide, to 39,070 -- for the first four months.

Kanoho hopes that for 2000, Kauai can exceed its 1.27 million visitors of 1991 (before Hurricane Iniki caused the island to lose more than half its visitors until a revival in 1994). "The flights have helped us a lot and things look good," she said.

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