Booming tourism good for sales, but there are merchant worries

KAPAA — Kauai’s strong tourism season seems to be good for some, but not all, businesses.

“We do a lot of board rentals. We’re a one-of-a-kind shop,” said Saa Tamba Ginlack, owner of Tamba, a Kapaa surf shop open since 1999. “We do great with tourists, we’ve been here for 18 years. Once they see all the local people wearing our brand, it helps.”

According to the Hawaii Tourism Authority, visitor spending increased nearly 9 percent during the first half of this year over last. The state agency said visitors spent $8.4 billion in the first six months of 2017, an increase of 8.7 percent from the same timeframe last year.

With additional direct flights from the West Coast offered by airlines next year, tourist numbers and spending are expected to continue to rise.

“It is absolutely great,” said Kusum Jhala, who was shopping at Hula Girl Friday while visiting from Los Angeles for her second time. “It’s our favorite destination in the world.”

On Kauai, visitor arrivals for June totaled 124,130, an 8.8 percent increase from June 2016. Visitor spending for June on Kauai totaled $172.6 million, a 10.5 percent increase.

For the first half of 2017, Kauai has welcomed 626,409 visitors, a 7.5 percent increase over the same time period last year. Those visitors spent $954.1 million, a 16.6 percent increase.

First-time visitors from Mesa, Arizona, Dean and Julie Jessup arrived Friday morning and were shopping at Togikawa Store.

“We came to celebrate my wife’s 50th birthday because this place is so laid-back,” Dean said. “We have already booked our excursions and picked up groceries at the store.”

The couple’s largest expenses were booking a $600 helicopter sightseeing tour and a $200 luau, in addition to dining and accommodations, he said.

Some Kapaa retail shop owners didn’t report a significant increase in their sales, despite an increase in tourism, but are seeing more window shoppers.

Hendrick Verhaagen, owner of Verhaagen Jewelry Design and Repair, operating downtown for eight years, said visitors are buying lots of shave ice.

“In the wintertime I get better business from the tourists,” he said. “Saturday Art Walk nights are when the locals come. With the increase in people, downtown sure could use another bathroom.”

“We don’t see much of an impact here,” said Kyle Doepke owner of The Glass Shack, which has been downtown since 2003. “It’s the restaurants and resorts that benefit. This is a small town with working-class business owners working behind the counters; no dollars are going to the aunties and uncles.”

Some Kapaa business owners have mixed feelings about the tourism authority’s numbers. A few were worried about the increasing costs of rent and the ability of current infrastructure to accommodate more visitors.

“How much more can we handle? Many locals can’t afford to stay and leave island because it’s so expensive,” Ginlack said. “We need to have a plan, or traffic may get so bad people won’t want to come back anymore.”

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