Heading for a record year

LIHUE — Ron Toki, a part-time shuttle driver for Kmart, said business was booming Thursday, the first of a two-day layover for the Norwegian Cruise Lines “Pride of America.”

“They’re from all over,” Toki said of the guests who leave the harbor and visit Kauai’s shops, beaches, restaurants and malls. “They come from the Mainland, the outer islands for island-hopping, and all different countries.”

Data released by the Hawaii Tourism Authority Thursday backed up Toki.

Tourism on Kauai is indeed booming.

Visitor expenditures for the Garden Isle jumped 15.8 percent to $821 million through June 2015 as compared to the same time frame last year. It also recorded double-digit growth in per person per day spending, up 12.6 percent to $182.9 million from $162.4 million the first year months of 2014.

“This has been very busy,” said Sue Kanoho, executive director of the Kauai Visitors Bureau, on the year the visitor industry is experiencing.

Kanoho said the June numbers alone, 107, 929 visitors, are exciting because Kauai broke the 100,000-visitor mark for the first time this year. And most of the people came from the West Coast — 59,104 compared with 57,058 for the same month the year before.

Visitor spending on Kauai for June totaled $148.4 million, up 15.5 percent from $128.5 million spent in June 2014. Kauai also saw higher daily spending in June, up 13.6 percent to $181 per person.

“When visitor numbers are up, everybody wins,” Kanoho said. “The summer is peak time for tourism and if the numbers are off, something is wrong. We are already focusing on the fall because tourism has a strong impact on the local economy.”

Statewide, the first half of 2015 started strong with year-to-date expenditures reaching a record $7.6 billion, an increase of 3.5 percent. It contributed to $806.92 million in state tax revenue but it was Kauai that showed some of the biggest leaps. The state welcomed 4.3 million visitors through June, an increase of 4 percent over the same time frame last year.

Air seats to Lihue increased to 6.1 percent to 338,516 and total arrivals jumped 5.3 percent to 583,530 visitors through June. Those stats all helped to contribute to this increase in total expenditures during the first half of the year.

Di and Norm Bazdley of Australia are some of those Kauai visitors. They said this is the first time they’ve been, and the scenery and atmosphere didn’t disappoint.

“This is wonderful,” Di said, waiting for the shuttle outside at Kukui Grove Center. “We get to see a bit more tomorrow. We would definitely come back.”

With more than 1,053 flights weekly to the Hawaiian Islands, airlift remains the key to the state’s visitor industry success, George D. Szigeti, president and CEO, Hawaii Tourism Authority said in a press release.

“The HTA will continue to work with its partners to grow and maintain airlift, projecting to reach a record 11.9 million total air seats to Hawaii by the end of the year,” he said, adding the HTA will host the first-ever Hawaii Tourism Authority Airline Summit to strengthen ties with the airlines and continue to highlight the unique attributes of the islands.

Benjamin Mercado and Jerico Blanco, both from the Philippines and working aboard the NCL cruise ship can attest to that.

“We don’t have much time,” Mercado said. “We have just two hours to come, buy food, and get back to work. Some of the crew members have the entire day off, but we’re just limited to two hours before getting back to work.”

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