Economist foresees visitor downturn till 2010

A University of Hawaii economist reported that Hawaii will see 680,000 fewer visitors this year than last and that the visitor count won't rise again until 2010.

The visitor industry downturn will result in the first year of job losses for Hawaii after 10 years of growth.

Visitor arrivals will fall by 9.1% this year, double the prediction three months ago, and by another 1.2% in 2009, according to Carl Bonham of the UH Economic Research Organization.

There were nearly 7.5 million visitors by air to Hawaii in 2007, a decline of less than half of 1% from the record in 2006.

It's unlikely Hawaii will see that many visitors again for at least four years, concluded the report.

The greatest decline this year will be from the mainland, which is forecast to drop by 12.1%, followed by a 7.6% drop in visitors from Japan. Mainland visitors are forecast to decline only slightly next year, by 1.4%, but the number of visitors from Japan is expected to drop another 5.8% in 2009.

Tourism will rebound in 2010 with a 5% increase that would push the number of visitor arrivals back over 7 million, the report said.

The drop is largely because of soaring oil prices, departure of Aloha and ATA Airlines and the loss of two Norwegian Cruise Line ships, the report said.

Neighbor Islands, Maui and the Big Island especially, are feeling the downturn the worst. Kauai will fare better because of the number of timeshare properties there, Bonham noted.

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