Kaua’i gets a cool million

Fueled by a bigger-than-expected growth in Mainland arrivals, Kaua’i surged past the one-million-visitor mark last year by the largest margin in more than a decade.

Residents hosted 1,090,302 visitors in 2005, with big gains in both numbers of U.S. West (those from west of the Rockies, mostly from California), and U.S. East visitors, according to figures from the state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism.

“It was an extremely successful year,” better than expected, said Sue Kanoho, executive director of the Kaua’i Visitors Bureau.

She credits industry leaders’ “reinvestment in the product,” whether that was renovation of existing hotel units or construction of new ones, for the gains that led to “a great year,” she said.

The arrival figures were much higher than forecast, she said.

The 2005 Kaua’i arrival figure represented a gain of 6.8 perce nt compared to 2004, with nearly half of all visitors (465,701) also making the conscious decision to vacation only on Kaua’i.

The number of Kaua’i-only visitors in 2005 was up nearly 5 percent over the 2004 figure.

Some 91.2 percent of all Kaua’i visitors last year were domestic visitors, with the number of domestic visitors up almost 10 percent last year compared to 2004. The number of domestic, Kaua’i-only visitors also grew by 7.5 percent.

Double-digit increases happened in December in numbers of domestic and total visitors, in both the overall and Kaua’i-only categories.

Nearly half of all Kaua’i visitors last year hailed from west of the Rockies, though a “great” increase (8.5 percent) in U.S. East visitors was also witnessed, Kanoho said.

On the heels of the strong 2005, Kanoho pointed out that Hawaii Tourism Authority, KVB and Hawai’i Visitors and Convention Bureau leaders are still tinkering with ways to increase length of stay and daily visitor expenditures as opposed to attempting to lure even more visitors to the state.

Visitor and resident satisfaction with the way the visitor industry is performing remains high, though Kanoho is worried about a jump, from 1 percent to 3 percent, in numbers of visitors rating their Kaua’i vacation experience “below average,” according to surveys.

Still, for the period from January to September of last year, 68 percent of all responding visitors characterized their Kaua’i vacation experience as “excellent,” and 29 percent considered their time here “above average.”

And, while earlier she had expressed concern for dwindling numbers of Canadian visitors, December saw a jump of 47.1 percent in Canadian arrivals to Kaua’i, with November seeing a 23.9 percent increase, she observed.

Is there a way that this year can be even better than last?

“When you have a great year like we did for the whole state, it’s hard to outdo yourself,” said Kanoho, indicating that even a 3-percent or 4-percent increase this year compared to 2005 “would be terrific.”

That type of increase would mean the arrival of between 1,123,011 and 1,133,914 visitors this year.

There are indicators that such growth is possible, including news that, beginning next month, leaders at U.S. Airways will start nonstop service between Lihu’e Airport and Phoenix.

Beginning March 1, the service will be four times a week, increasing to seven days a week on May 1, remaining at least four times a week until further notice, Kanoho explained.

The arriving jets will carry up to 190 passengers.

“It means there’s growth potential, a great market, and lots of people in that area,” she said of Phoenix. “So that will help.”

Any increase in inventory of any kind, be it accommodations, air seats, or activities, is a good thing, she added.

Visitors to Kaua’i last year spent $1.173 billion, and the average domestic visitor stayed nearly seven days.

There were 7,379,635 visitors to Hawai’i last year, and they spent $11.5 billion.

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