Interisland air cutbacks could hit Kaua’i hard

A state study shows Kaua’i’s visitor industry could take a significant hit in terms of visitor arrivals as a result of airline executives’ decisions to reduce numbers of interisland flights.

Both Hawaiian Airlines and Aloha Airlines have reduced numbers of interisland flights in efforts to attain profitability.

Local visitor-industry officials worry that availability of fewer interisland seats is already impacting in a negative way business and leisure travel for both residents and visitors.

“The days of ‘let’s hop a flight to Kaua’i tomorrow’ may be over. If you can only go for a few hours, why go at all?” said Sue Kanoho, executive director of the Kaua’i Visitors Bureau.

“Everybody on all islands is feeling the pinch. All have economic concerns,” said Kanoho, adding that less interisland flight availability means less interisland travel for business and leisure.

“The one thing I need to know” from the airlines is whether the current, reduced availability is temporary, permanent, or may get worse or better, she said.

“It’s first and foremost in everyone’s mind,” and Kanoho worries aloud about fewer interisland seats translating to fewer day trips and spur-of-the-moment interisland hops.

Already, she knows of resident business travelers who have canceled or rescheduled business trips because they don’t have the luxury of overnighting on O’ahu, and can’t get their business done in the few hours available between rushing to and from the airport at less-convenient times.

Kanoho herself last week had to leave a meeting two hours before it ended because the last flight of the day back to Kaua’i on either carrier left Honolulu at 3:55 p.m., where last flights used to be closer to 8 p.m.

At her business meetings, the first greeting used to be “How are you?” or “How’s the family?” Now, it’s “Are you going to be able to get home tonight?” she said.

On the visitor front, the situation is the same.

While nonstop flights to the Neighbor Islands from West Coast cities has lessened the demand for interisland seats, the fewer interisland seats might deter spontaneous interisland travel by visitors, according to information from the state Department of Business, Economic Development & Tourism.

Over 30 percent of Japanese visitors to Kaua’i decide to come here only after arriving in the state, according to information from a DBEDT survey. Now, that’s something that isn’t as easy to do with reduced numbers of interisland flights on both Hawaiian and Aloha.

Where Mainland visitors are concerned, 8.3 percent of all Kaua’i visitors from the region east of the Rockies chose to come to Kaua’i only after getting to the state, based on responses from visitors who came to Hawai’i in the first half of 2001.

In the state and island’s core U.S. West market (west of the Rockies), the Big Island may be impacted the most, as 10.6 percent of such visitors decided to visit the Big Island after arriving in the state. This compares with 3.6 percent for Maui, and just 1.2 percent for Kaua’i.

Among arrivals from the U.S. East region, visitors who decided to travel to Kaua’i after arriving in the state accounted for 8.3 percent of the island’s arrivals from that region, with smaller shares observed for the Big Island (6.8 percent) and Maui (4.3 percent).

Visitors from Japan who decided to visit a Neighbor Island after arriving in Hawai’i accounted for significantly larger shares of Neighbor Island arrivals than seen in the U.S. West and U.S. East markets.

Among Japanese visitors to Kaua’i, 30.1 percent decided to visit the island after arriving in Hawai’i, with smaller shares reported by visitors to the Big Island (24.6 percent) and Maui (22.3 percent).

Kanoho said earlier that any cutback in available airline seats to Kaua’i is a cause for concern, and that bureau response to such cutbacks would be determined based on severity.

Hawaii Tourism Authority representatives have said they would like to see more business travel between the islands, but less interisland availability could make that goal impossible to achieve, she continued.

While in many cases residents can simply adjust travel times to accommodate airline schedules, visitors who chose to travel interisland after arriving in the state may decide against the additional travel if it isn’t easy to book, or available, according to results from the DBEDT study.

While the island’s high percentage of Kaua’i-only visitors (those who choose to vacation only on Kaua’i), light dependence on Japanese visitors, and availability of nonstop flights into Lihu’e Airport from the West Coast have all helped bolster this island’s visitor-arrival figures even through terrorist events and international economic downturns, the DBEDT study concludes that Kaua’i could be hit the hardest of any of the Neighbor Islands in terms of last-minute, island-hopping decisions by Japanese and East Coast visitors.

Business Editor Paul C. Curtis can be reached at mailto:pcurtis@pulitzer.net or 245-3681 (ext. 224).

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