LIHUE — Although domestic visitors make up the bulk of arrivals to the island, international visitors are “always welcome,” said Mark Perriello, Kauai Chamber of Commerce president and CEO.
“There’s really a lot of unique offerings on Kauai that people can’t find in other destinations, that I think make us unique,” Perriello said.
Kauai Kookie and Koloa Rum are among some of the businesses that offer products exclusive to Kauai, Perriello noted.
Other businesses greatly benefit from international visitors.
“We do get quite a bit of international visitors,” said Jessika Montoya, Salty Wahine executive administrative sales assistant. “About 30 percent (of our clientele) is international. It’s a good portion. We get a lot of Japanese, Canadian and European visitors as well.”
She added: “I feel like they spread our name everywhere, so we get orders from visitors out of the country.”
July saw a slight decrease in international visitors to the island, about 250 less visitors than June, according to a preliminary report from the Hawaii Tourism Authority.
But in the beginning of summer, the island saw gains in visitors from Japan, Australia and New Zealand in June, which is about 1,200 more visitors than May. However, Canada visitation saw a drop of over 400 visitors from May to June. Compared to last June, Canada is down by 12 percent, while Japan is in the red 7.7 percent.
The international visitor market represents a little over 10 percent of Kauai’s total visitors from January to July this year, or 82,705 out of 703,078 visitors as of July 2016, according to a preliminary report.
Riding the momentum of the summer, the Kauai Visitors Bureau has its eyes set on several international markets to increase visitor arrivals to the Garden Isle.
“Right now we’re focusing on Japan. We’re (also) looking at Korea, Europe, Oceania,” said Sue Kanoho, executive director.
The KVB works with marketing companies contracted by the Hawaii Tourism Authority that are stationed in at least a dozen international markets. Kanoho said the bureau is the eyes and ears of the companies, whose job is to promote the island to international visitors.
Efforts seem to be working.
Kanoho said increases in visitor arrivals from Australia and New Zealand in June may be attributed to popular television programs featuring Kauai as their location.
“New Zealand brought in ‘The Bachelor’ at the beginning of the year, (while) Sunrise 7 was here from Australia — they came in to do a piece,” she said. “They’ll come to us and say, ‘We have a travel writer. We have a TV show. We have social media person.’ We work closely with them to see how we can match the resources on the island to their need.”
Trade shows, briefings and familiarization tours about Kauai held in international markets are other initiatives spearheaded by the HTA.
Overall numbers from the past three years also indicate a steady visitor market from Japan, Australia and New Zealand, which had gains in 2015 compared to 2014 — with Canada taking a slight dip, according to a preliminary report.
But Kauai isn’t the only island on visitors’ radars.
Though the Garden Isle is still ranked among the world’s best islands in several popular travel publications, islands such as Seychelles off the eastern coast of Africa, Mykonos in Greece and Palawan in the Philippines are offering visitors a wider range of choices.
Officials say the amount of island destinations in the market have doubled due to several factors, including cheaper exchange rates.
Another challenge the island faces is a lack of direct international flights — with the exception of WestJet, which flies from Canada to Kauai.
“Many of the first-timers on the international side will tend to want to do Oahu and Maui,” Kanoho said. “We’re making (visitors) aware that there are the choices of islands in the state of Hawaii and what Kauai has to offer.”
While Kauai is seeing gains in international arrivals, global travel spending is expected to grow by 3.1 percent, according to The World Travel and Tourism Council, a group backed by travel providers with the mission to promote tourism.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.