Despite a projected 3% slide in overall air and cruise arrivals for 2009, state tourism marketing officials and contractors maintained a cautiously optimistic outlook throughout the Hawaii Tourism Authority's March 18 spring marketing update.

An estimated 6.5 million visitors will arrive in the islands this year, down 207,000 from 2008, according to officials. Although significantly lower than Hawaii's recent record totals, this year's projected arrival numbers are comparable to 2003 and 2004 figures.

Concerns about group meetings, conferences and incentive travel to Hawaii being seen as wasteful were discussed repeatedly during the presentations. Amid the current economic turmoil, an increasing number of companies are hesitant to send employees to the state, fearing the trips will be regarded as superfluous vacations. Corporate meetings, in fact, are now considered by state officials as the weakest segment of potential visitors.

But there were bright spots. Lower fuel costs and surcharges combined with increased hotel package activity, retail discounts, carrier airlift opportunities, and strong honeymoon and timeshare markets were all listed as significant positives pointing toward possible growth in visitor arrivals and spending in months to come.

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