Kaua’i on pace for 1 million visitors

Kaua’i’s tourism industry remains both strong and manageable, showing steady growth and increased arrivals, industry officials said.

The island’s total number of visitors by air increased more than 5 percent in August compared to the same month a year ago. For the year to date, the number of total air visitors was up 3 percent for the first eight months, compared to the same period last year, according to figures from leaders of the state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism (DBEDT).

Kaua’i is likely to surpass 1 million visitors this year, said Sue Kanoho, executive director of the Kaua’i Visitors Bureau.

According to DBEDT sources, for the first eight months of this year, Kaua’i had 719,583 air visitors and 168,484 cruiseship visitors, for a total of 888,067, or an average of over 111,000 visitors a month.

At that rate, island residents would end 2005 greeting over 1.33 million visitors.

“August was a great month for us. September might flatten out, but we’ll be strong in November and December,” Kanoho said, adding there is already a lot of buzz about the PGA Grand Slam of Golf event Monday through Wednesday, Nov. 21 to 23.

“A million is a good number for us. What’s the capacity for Kaua’i? We don’t really know,” said Kanoho, who is among many who have voiced concerns about sustainable growth, inventory and infrastructure to maintain both a quality tourism product and quality of life for island residents.

That was a point touched upon by economist Dr. Leroy Laney, a Hawaii Pacific University economics and finance professor, who said the island, despite its strong economy, is plagued by clogged roads and a lack of affordable housing for the island’s working population.

Laney is also a consultant to First Hawaiian Bank.

“As Kaua’i’s visitor industry matures, the problem becomes one of how to sustain its great success in previous years,” Laney said. “But it is sure to remain a gem among tropical island experiences in the years to come.”

Laney made his remarks earlier this week at the 31st Annual Kauai Business Outlook Forum, part of the Kaua’i Chamber of Commerce quarterly-general-membership meeting at the Princeville Resort (hotel). Look for more of Laney’s comments on the Kaua’i economy in the Sunday, Oct. 2 issue’s business pages.

Kanoho said the island’s top arrival total on record was 1.2 million, in 1989. She said she feels Kaua’i’s steady, 2.5-percent, annual growth rate in tourism arrivals is manageable.

She noted that, unlike the Big Island and O’ahu, which had seen fluctuation over the years, Kaua’i’s numbers tended to be more stable.

“It’s good, measured growth,” she said.

Kanoho said one reason September might show a bit of a fall off is because of shorter booking window. She said that traditionally, visitors may have booked their tickets six to eight weeks in advance. Now, they are more likely to go online and book within a two-week period, and then pop in for shorter stays.

Kanoho said the island also saw an impressive, 10-percent growth in arrivals of East Coast visitors, who Kanoho said were more likely to be first-time arrivals, stay longer, and spend freely.

For the year-to-date, U.S. East visitors spent the most per trip, at $1,799 per person.

According to Laney, Kaua’i’s visitor strength still lies on the U.S. domestic side. Like Maui, Kaua’i has been making bigger gains in the U.S. East market. He said that, this year, that market has been growing almost 8 percent, compared to just under 3 percent for the U.S. West market.

Laney also observed that the visitor-room inventory has been shifting away from hotels in recent years, with a good example being the conversion of the Radisson Kauai Beach Hotel to a condo-hotel facility.

This is taking some inventory off the market.

Kaua’i saw its 83.1 occupancy rate for August 2005 dip from 86.8 percent a year ago, but the average daily room rate increased by nine dollars to $197.73, according to Hospitality Advisors LLC.

He said another aspect that distinguishes Kaua’i’s tourism market from the rest of the state is the greater importance of independent vacation rentals. He said that market had been boosted in recent years by the ease of finding such rentals of the Internet.

The vacation-rental business is up 6 percent in the first half of the year, Laney said.

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