Kaua‘i tourism in ‘hard fall’

Total visitor arrivals to Kaua‘i dropped 25 percent in August compared to the same month last year for the third consecutive month of double-digit declines, according to the state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism.

Data released yesterday shows Kaua‘i’s arrivals last month at 92,366, making for some of the worst numbers since Hurricane ‘Iniki. The year-to-date arrivals for Kaua‘i through August are down 16.6 percent compared to the same period last year, for a total of 3.2 million.

Kaua‘i wasn’t the only island with weak August arrivals. O‘ahu arrivals are down 18 percent, while Big Island and Maui posted 23 and 21 percent declines, respectively. Only Lana‘i and Moloka‘i saw bigger drops in arrivals in August, with 28 and 31 percent, respectively.

All islands reported lower visitor expenditures this August compared to 2007. On Kaua‘i, spending declined 18.4 percent to $102.9 million. Year-to-date spending for the Garden Isle was down 12 percent to $813.4 million.

Visitor industry leaders have said the departure of two NCL America cruise ships from Hawai‘i to sail in foreign waters accounts for almost 80 percent of Kaua‘i visitor arrivals decline this summer.

The statewide picture was no less dismal.

Total expenditures by visitors who arrived by air declined 17.6 percent or $206.9 million, from the same month last year, to $970.7 million. The decrease was caused by lower daily spending and a 17.3 percent decline in visitor arrivals by air to 606,342 people.

State Tourism Liaison Marsha Wienert again cited rising fuel prices, the loss of two cruise ships and a decrease in international cruise ship visits, the mortgage crisis and consumer confidence as playing a role in tourism’s decline.

“Hawai‘i’s visitor industry is feeling the effects of the continued softness in the national economy,” Wienert said. “The performance of Hawai‘i’s summer season exemplifies the volatility of the visitor industry on uncontrollable outside factors.”

Tourism to Hawai‘i from the U.S. West Coast has recorded its biggest drop on record.

The latest state figures show 24 percent fewer visitors came from California and other West Coast states in August than the same month a year ago.

The decline is on all islands for travelers from just about all major markets — except for Canada.

Some positive news, according to the state, was the 8.5 percent increase in air arrivals from Canada, a market that has showed continued growth.

Still, economic forecasts don’t expect any signs of improvement until 2010.

A report from the University of Hawai’i Economic Research Organization was revised last week to say that arrivals growth will decline by 9 percent statewide this year and continue on that track in 2009.

The report’s title says it all: “A hard fall for Hawai‘i.”

It’s unclear at this juncture how deeply the financial market fiasco will impact arrivals. To this point, the health of the national economy has been a major factor in the Hawai‘i tourism industry’s buoyancy.

• Blake Jones, business writer/assistant editor, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 251) or bjones@kauaipubco.com

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