Shane Nelson
Shane Nelson

InsightA group of about 200 hoteliers, airline executives, travel agents, tour operators, vacation planners, marketers and state tourism officials gathered at the Sheraton Waikiki this month for Travel Weekly's annual Hawaii Leadership Forum. The mood at the event was noticeably more upbeat than that of last year's forum, due in large part to a growing number of positive figures emerging across the state.

"I'm very encouraged by some of the numbers coming out of our visitor industry," Lt. Gov. James Aiona said during the forum's keynote address. "Visitor arrivals have increased for five consecutive months. This represents a 3.7% increase. Visitor spending has increased for two consecutive months. That represents a 4% increase, while both domestic and international air seats are up when compared to 2009.

"And although we are not where we want to and need to be economically, gains such as these are a very strong indication that we are headed in the right direction."

Topics discussed this year included the attitudes of the post-recession vacation traveler, the sizable impact of the aging baby boomer market, the fall 2011 grand opening of Disney's Aulani Resort & Spa on Oahu and, of course, the growing influence of social media.

But the subject of Hawaii hotels and their average daily room rates seemed to pop up a bit more frequently than the others. On sale now for the better part of two years, hotel rooms across the islands still represent a great bargain for consumers, but thanks to some of the previously mentioned positive indicators, hoteliers across the state are carefully contemplating if now is the time to start inching those ADRs upward again.

During a 20-minute lunchtime presentation, Jan Freitag, vice president of global development for STR Global, put things simply.

"Yes, we are rebounding," Freitag insisted. "The global hotel industry is recovering. Demand is back. Pricing is not."

Frietag went on to explain that Hawaii was, for the most part, in line with the global resurgence, but he did present data showing that some of the destination's competitors -- particularly those in the Caribbean -- had already begun increasing room rates.

However, panelist Jack Richards, president and CEO of Pleasant Holidays, was quick to warn Hawaii hoteliers not to move ADRs too high too swiftly.

"I can speak to 2011, and what we've seen on a preliminary basis is price increases up to 50% in some room categories," Richards said. "I don't think that is going to be realistic or sustainable going forward. I'm not quite sure we've pulled out of the recession or the price sensitivity of the consumer, so I think we are getting ahead of ourselves somewhat.

"We need to get through the summer season, and after June, July and August, I think we'll have a much clearer picture of 2011," he said, adding that in the past, "Hawaii got in trouble by raising ADRs too high too quickly. They became some of the highest in the United States, so I think there is a clear and present danger in going up too fast."

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