The Hawaiian Islands welcomed more visitors in July from U.S. states west of the Rockies, ending an 11-month streak of consecutive year-over-year declines from the destination’s largest source market.
More than 327,000 people traveled to Hawaii from the U.S. West during the month, an increase of 5.1% over July 2013, according to preliminary estimates released by the Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) Aug. 27.
Those improved July arrivals figures appear to be largely linked to increased air seat capacity to the Islands on nonstop flights from U.S. gateways.
“In terms of seat lift, earlier in the year we actually told you that from the domestic U.S. we were going to be down .1%,” David Uchiyama, the HTA’s vice president of brand management, said during his remarks at the Aug. 28 Hawaii Tourism Conference in Honolulu.
“But with the redeployment of Hawaiian’s aircraft off the international routes and onto domestic routes, and the addition of Delta coming in very strongly from different markets like Los Angeles, Seattle — and now seasonal flights from JFK — we’ve actually increased [our domestic airlift forecast] to 4.5% for the balance of the year,” he explained.
Despite the boost in air seats, HTA officials still expect visitor arrivals from Hawaii’s largest source market to dip in 2014, slipping 1.3% from the 3.2 million people the Aloha State welcomed from the U.S. West last year.
The numbers from U.S. states east of the Rockies look a little better, according to the HTA’s latest projections. Total arrivals from the U.S. East in 2014 are expected to remain essentially flat, inching up less than a percentage point over the 1.7 million travelers visiting from the market last year.
While Uchiyama noted that nonstops from some major East Coast hubs, like Washington, D.C., and New York Kennedy, “are hanging in there,” he added that competition from destinations in the Caribbean and Florida, combined with the “time element” required to travel to Hawaii, continue to be challenges.
“We really need airlift out of Chicago and Minneapolis,” he said. “But it’s going to be hard because of the yielding element [airlines] have seen in the past. So we’re going to have to continue to work with those carriers to try and see if we can’t get somebody to buy into those routes.”
Overall, however, the HTA expects 2014 to be another record-breaker in terms of visitor arrivals, thanks in part to continued gains from several growing international markets. Officials are now targeting more than 8.2 million total visitors for the Islands this year, up .9% when compared with 2013.
The HTA is forecasting more growth in 2015, calling for more than 8.4 million arrivals and more than $15.1 billion in total visitor spending next year.