Shane Nelson
Shane Nelson

For the fourth straight year, the Hawaiian Islands set new all-time highs for total visitor arrivals and expenditures in 2015, welcoming more than 8.6 million travelers who spent $15 billion across the Aloha State.

Hawaii’s overall arrivals count finished up more than 4% year over year in 2015 while total spending increased 2.3%, according to preliminary estimates released by the Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) Jan. 28.

Domestic tourism business was strong again for the Aloha State last year, particularly from Hawaii’s largest source market: U.S. states west of the Rockies. More than 3.5 million people traveled to Hawaii from the region in 2015, a jump of more than 7% from the year prior, and spending climbed 6.8%, to nearly $5 billion.

Meanwhile, arrivals from the U.S. East rose 3%, to more than 1.7 million travelers, who spent $3.7 billion, a grand total that was essentially flat year over year.

Jack Richards, the president and CEO of Pleasant Holidays, said that while 2015 was not a record year to Hawaii for his company, the Los Angeles-based wholesaler “experienced very strong performance.”

Richards also noted that groups and corporate incentives bookings were particularly good on both Oahu and Maui during the second half of the year. According to the HTA’s preliminary estimates, both islands set new arrivals records in 2015.

“Based upon bookings thus far in January, we believe 2016 is going to be better than 2015,” Richards added, “due to increased air seat capacity, groups travel, and a stronger U.S. economy.”

Total air capacity to Hawaii rose 5.8% in 2015, to a new peak of more than 11.9 million seats, bolstered by an 8.6% increase from the U.S. West and an 8% boost from the U.S. East.

However, 2015 wasn’t all good news for Hawaii. The destination welcomed eight fewer cruise ships to the islands last year, and overall cruise visitors dropped 7.3%, to just over 115,000. And while arrivals from Japan, Hawaii’s largest foreign market, were essentially unchanged year over year, spending by Japanese visitors sunk nearly 10%, to $2.2 billion.

Still, tourism business throughout the state was relatively strong overall as the major neighbor islands all saw individual improvement in arrivals and spending last year.

“Kauai experienced one of our best years with total visitor expenditures … in 2015 coming at $1.6 billion,” said Sue Kanoho, executive director of the Kauai Visitors Bureau. “Visitor arrivals finished at 1.6 million, which is a 4.3% increase over last year. [And in 2016] we are also very excited about the return of Island Air to Kauai with six daily flights between Oahu and Kauai.”
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