New reports boost tourism outlook for Kaua‘i

 LIHU‘E — Economic indicators have been mixed for all counties in Hawai‘i, but thanks to gains in tourism and its popularity as a Hollywood movie locale, the future is looking brighter for the Garden Isle.

“Kaua‘i continues to be a destination where people come to recharge their batteries, rejuvenate and enjoy the incredible nature of our island,” Sue Kanoho, executive director of the Kaua‘i Visitors Bureau, said on Saturday. “The recent attention from four movies filmed on our island has certainly helped keep Kaua‘i in the spotlight.

Kaua‘i last week made Cheapflights.com’s list of Top 10 film locations.

“Kaua‘i has been Hollywood’s tropical backlot of choice for eight decades now,” the company said in a statement. “The most western of the Hawaiian Islands, it oozes star quality. It’s a shape-shifter, too, pretending to be Australia, Central and South America, Africa, Southeast Asia, the South Pacific and even, in the case of ‘Avatar,’ a world that doesn’t exist.”

Citing the National Brands Index, the company said research has shown that 40 percent of people would be “very likely” to travel to places because they have seen them on film. Popular movies filmed on Kaua‘i during the last five years have included “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides,” “The Descendants,” “Avatar” and “Tropic Thunder.”

“We are hearing the success of ‘The Descendants’ has become more of a modern-day ‘South Pacific’ for the younger generation, especially with the story line and Hawaiian music soundtrack,” Kanoho said.

On Thursday, the Hawai‘i Tourism Authority released more good news. Visitor spending on Kaua‘i increased for the 15th straight month, up 16.2 percent to $114 million.

“The Kaua‘i Visitors Bureau is proud of the January and February 2012 statistics and are pleased to see yearover- year growth for our island,” Kanoho said. “We finally broke 1 million visitors for the first time since 2008.”

Other Hawai‘i Tourism Authority highlights include a 6.9 percent increase in visitor arrivals and an 8.6 percent increase in daily visitor spending to $175 per person. U.S. West arrivals have jumped 14 percent, supported by more direct air service to Lihu‘e Airport, the report states.

Visitor days have increased 7 percent yearover- year, while the average length of stay has stayed flat with a 0.1 percent increase.

Kanoho doesn’t anticipate the severe storms and flooding the island experienced last month to adversely affect the Hawai‘i Tourism Authority’s tourism figures for March.

“Overall, everyone understood this was an unusually bizarre set of storms with a tremendous amount of rain in a short period of time,” she said. “We are always reviewing how we can improve our responses to these types of situations and make things better in the future. We are not aware of any future cancellations as a result of the storm.”

Of greater concern in the near future is the rising cost of fuel.

“We are watching fuel prices very closely,” Kanoho said. “As fuel prices go up, so does the air fare. Reasonable air fare is important to Kaua‘i, and when we hit fares of $1,200 and higher, we start to see a dip in bookings.”

She said having car rentals available to visitors is also important.

“We are encouraging visitors to make car rental reservations immediately following airline reservations so the rental car agencies can manage their inventory with as much advance knowledge as possible,” Kanoho said.

Hospitality Advisors’ weekly snapshot of statewide hotel performance, ending March 24, shows Kaua‘i’s occupancy rate was at 63.2 percent, which is a 1.6 percent increase over 2011. The average room rate was $216.22, representing a 2 percent increase.

Next week’s occupancy figures will reflect last week’s Prince Kuhio Festival and celebration.

“We just wrapped up our cultural press trip centered around the Prince Kuhio Festival,” Kanoho said. “The attendees really enjoyed getting immersed in our host culture and learning more about Prince Kuhio.” ∫ Vanessa Van Voorhis, staff writer, can be reached at 245- 3681, ext. 251, or by emailing vvanvoorhis@thegardenisland.com.

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