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For the sixth straight year, Kaua’i in 2002 welcomed over one million visitors.

Just barely.

The island greeted 1,000,826 visitors last year, down 0.8 percent from 2001’s results (1,008,698) and marking the lowest visitor arrival tally since 1996, when 969,140 visitors arrived. The island in 1996 was still recovering from 1992’s Hurricane ‘Iniki. In 1991, the island greeted 1,267,620 visitors.

The news is mostly good, especially increases in numbers of Kaua’i-only visitors for both December and all of 2002 compared to same-period results from 2001, according to statistics released by the state Department of Business, Economic Development & Tourism.

Kaua’i greeted 78,975 visitors in December, up nearly 10 percent compared to the December 2001 figure of 72,014. Kaua’i-only visitors numbered 29,063 in December 2002, up 6.1 percent from 27,398 in December 2001.

Kaua’i-only visitors in all of 2002 numbered 361,357, up 2.1 percent from 353,915 in 2001.

The island saw increases in numbers of domestic visitors for December and the entire year both for total visitors and Kaua’i-only guests, though mixed results where international visitors are concerned.

December figures showed increases in international visitors both for total and Kaua’i-only visitors, but declines for calendar 2002 compared to 2001 in both categories.

Numbers of visitors from the U.S. West region (west of the Rocky Mountains) were up in both total and Kaua’i-only visitors for both December and full-year 2002, with declines registered in numbers of U.S. East visitors for the year in both total and Kaua’i-only categories.

Japanese visitor numbers were up for the month, but down for the year.

Numbers of cruise-ship visitors increased by nearly 81 percent, to 19,998 last year from 11,068 in 2001, and the number of air seats operated to Lihu’e Airport increased last year in both charter and scheduled operations compared to 2001.

Expenditure figures show that Japanese visitors, though they don’t stay as long on Kaua’i as domestic visitors do, still spend the most money each day, $235.80 per person per day, compared to around $150 a day for domestic visitors.

Last year, the average visitor stayed 10 days in Hawai’i, with domestic visitors lingering an average of nearly 12 days. Canadian visitors stayed over two weeks on average. Kaua’i’s number of Canadian visitors increased 2.6 percent last year compared to 2001.

Kaua’i joined Honolulu as the only counties in Hawai’i to enjoy increases in hotel occupancy rates last year compared to 2001, according to figures from the Honolulu accounting and management firm PKF-Hawaii.

Kaua’i’s overall occupancy rate for 2002 was 68.8 percent, up from 67.8 percent in 2001, while O’ahu’s 2002 occupancy rate was at 74.7 percent, up from 71.7 percent in 2001. Statewide occupancy was also up, to 72.2 percent last year from 71.5 percent in 2001.

Eastside properties on Kaua’i had the best 2002 occupancy rate, 71.7 percent, up from 68.5 percent, followed by Northshore accommodations, 70.2 percent, up from 59.9 percent in 2001. Southshore establishments followed, at 64.2 percent, down from 68.2 percent in 2001.

The overall increases were made despite a dismal December when Kaua’i visitor units were half-full (51.4 percent, virtually unchanged compared to December 2001). The state’s overall December 2002 occupancy rate was 69 percent, up from 61 percent in December 2001.

For the year 2002, Kaua’i hotels by themselves (not including resort condominiums) had an occupancy rate of 73.3 percent, up from 72.8 percent in 2001. Resort condominiums on Kaua’i recorded occupancy levels below 50 percent in December 2002, an increase from the same month in 2001.

For the year 2002, resort condominium occupancy on Kaua’i was 58.5 percent, up from 56.5 percent in 2001. That was the lowest among the counties. Statewide resort condominium occupancy was 67.2 percent in 2002, up from 65.6 percent in 2001. O’ahu resort condominiums enjoyed the highest 2002 occupancy rate, 73.2 percent, up from 69.1 percent in 2001.

“Annual occupancy levels showed a remarkable rebound from the near-halt witnessed not only by the Hawai’i hotel industry, but the national tourism industry as a whole from 2001,” said Ernie Watari, chief executive officer of PKF-Hawaii.

“With global terrorist activities and the ongoing threat of war against Iraq, Hawai’i needs to maintain its image as a safe vacation resort destination and continue to draw not only domestic visitors but international visitors as well,” Watari said.

Representatives of the Hawai’i Visitors & Convention Bureau were happy with the 2002 figures, saying marketing efforts to leverage Hawai’i’s brand equity and encourage travel after Sept. 11, 2001 paid dividends last year and created momentum for this year.

“Despite the challenges Hawai’i faces in being a long-haul destination that is over 99 percent dependent on air transportation, it is worth noting that the state has done very well in its recovery compared with other prominent destinations,” said Barbara Okamoto, HVCB vice president of customer relationship management.

“This speaks volumes about the standing of Hawai’i with visitors throughout the world,” she said.

“Hawai’i’s top ranking in travel-marketing firm NFO Plog’s 2002 American Travel Survey of more than 9,000 households is another sign of the state’s continued strength as a visitor destination,” said Tony Vericella, HVCB president and chief executive officer.

“For the sixth year in a row, survey respondents ranked Hawai’i as offering the most satisfying vacation experiences in the nation,” he said.

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