Reported by: Gina Mangieri
The latest visitor numbers show arrivals and spending are down again, but those who are coming are staying longer.
April is the first time to compare year-to-year numbers since Aloha Airlines and ATA shut down. It was supposed to have been rosier -- but proved to have few bright spots.
Visitor arrivals in April were down 1.3 percent overall compared to the same period last year.
Year to date, the total visitor count is more than 11 percent off last year's pace.
"We're seeing the rates of decline ease a little bit, but we're still at a fairly low trough,” said Frank Haas, U.H. School of Travel Industry Management. “So when we talk about recovery, it's recovery from a low base"
Visitor spending continued in a rough patch, down more than 12 percent, despite visitor days being longer -- people stayed here more than 9 days on average, up a few percent, but they still spent less overall.
"The health of the visitor industry and our economy will be dependent on visitor spending,” said state tourism liaison Marsha Wienert, “and not necessarily on visitor arrivals."
"We need to get spending up and that's a challenge after a lot of discounting that we've seen,” Haas said, “but in terms of filling restaurants and filling attractions and filling hotel rooms we also need the arrivals."
There were bright spots -- like a nearly 7 percent bump from Canada and even more from Japan, up almost 9 percent. That's before swine flu caused a double-digit cliff in Japanese arrivals this month.
"The other thing to watch is the month of May because that's where we're really going to see the impact of swine flu on the Japan market," Haas said.
Some are calling for more assertive state action such as screening or visitor health declarations to demonstrate attention to the flu, the numbers of which have spiked in recent days.
"Many of our Asian tourists, when they come to the airport, they want to see the same kind of aggressive screening procedures that are being done in their home country,” said Sen. Mike Gabbard. “When they come to Hawaii, they're not seeing it."
Travel industry experts say it's a fine balance to keep that market warm until the comfort level returns.
“In the middle of concerns about health and security, it's very difficult to change anybody's minds about travel,” Haas said, “but what you can do is get people prepared for when the conditions change."
The biggest decline in both arrivals and spending comes from our visitors from the U.S. East Coast. Guests from Japan were the only ones to have spent more here in April compared to the year before.
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