Tovin Lapan
Tovin Lapan

The 2017 numbers are in and, as expected, Hawaii turned in record figures in several categories related to visitation and tourism.

For the sixth consecutive year, the Aloha State registered new annual high water marks for visitor spending, visitor arrivals, visitor-generated tax revenue, trans-Pacific air seats and jobs supported statewide, according to preliminary year-end statistics released by the Hawaii Tourism Authority.

Visitor spending hit $16.78 billion and visitors arrivals reached nearly 9.4 million for 2017, increases of 6.2% and 5% respectively. Tax revenue, also up 6.2%, totaled $1.96 billion. Besides government and other state-related jobs, the hospitality industry in Hawaii employs the most people. In 2017 a record 204,000 jobs statewide were supported by the tourism industry according to the HTA, a 5.2% increase from 2016.

"What tourism generated for Hawaii in 2017, highlighted by record totals in the five major categories that convey the industry's importance to residents and the state's economy, is rewarding and should not be taken for granted," HTA president and CEO George D. Szigeti said in a statement. "It's especially heartening that tourism is supporting 204,000 jobs in Hawaii, knowing how the industry's success helps families, businesses and communities statewide."

On average, there were 230,113 visitors in the Hawaiian Islands on any given day in 2017, up 5% versus 2016. Arrivals by both air travel and cruise ships increased year-over-year in 2017, registering 5% and 12% jumps respectively. A total 9.2 million visitors came by air, and the growth was driven by U.S. West, U.S. East, Japanese and Canadian markets. A dozen more cruise ships visited Hawaii in 2017 than 2016, bringing 255,296 visitors to the state.

While all four major islands for tourism saw increased traffic and spending, Hawaii Island led the pack. Visitors spent $2.4 billion on the Big Island, a 14.7% jump from 2016 and the total number of visitors was up 13.7%. Led by boosts in capacity from the U.S. East and Japan, trans-Pacific air seats to the islands expanded by 2%, for a record total of 12.2 million. In 2012, total air seats to Hawaii were roughly 10 million.

Capacity to Kona International Airport on Hawaii Island jumped 15.5% due to new direct service from Japan's Haneda and Narita Airports, and increased capacity out of Dallas, Denver, Los Angeles and Seattle. Additional flights out of Los Angeles also boosted capacity to Lihue Airport on Kauai and Hilo Airport on Hawaii Island, with total seats increasing 8% and 7% respectively.

More routes and expanded service are planned in 2018, with the most anticipation surrounding Southwest Airlines' plans to enter the market.

While Hawaii's traditionally strong feeder markets of mainland United States, Japan and Canada demonstrated growth, all other markets declined. Combined total spending by visitors from all other international markets dropped 4% compared to 2016 to $3 billion. There was significant dip in visitation from China, with total visitors dropping 8% from 2016.

The record year was boosted at the finish line by a strong December, with total visitor spending up nearly 5% and approximately 11% more arrivals compared to December 2016.

"We are hopeful of sustaining tourism's momentum in 2018 for the benefit of Hawaii's families and the state's economy," Szigeti said. "HTA's Global Marketing Team is communicating with travel industry partners in Hawaii's source markets on a continual basis to maintain travelers' confidence in the booking of trips to the Hawaiian Islands. Our message to global travelers continues to be that Hawaii is the safest, cleanest and most welcoming destination in the world."

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