NAWILIWILI — Joe Phillips of New York was pleased with his beer shirt that was wrapped up by Ana Munoz of Bamboo Island Bath &Body Thursday at Anchor Cove Shopping Center.
Phillips said this was his and his wife’s first visit to Kauai.
“This was a place I always wanted to come to visit,” he said. “My wife’s former co-workers retired to winter on Kauai and kept inviting us to visit.”
Kauai welcomed a record number of visitors like Phillips in 2018.
According to the Hawaii Tourism Authority, Kauai had 118,873 visitors in December, bringing the total for the year to 1.38 million, the most ever for this small island, and a 7.6 percent increase over 2017.
Those visitors spent $163.2 million in December, down 3.5 percent from December 2017, but for the year, visitors spent $2 billion, a 10.2 percent increase from last year, according to the HTA report released Thursday.
Sue Kanoho, executive director of the Kauai Visitors Bureau, said there were a few factors that influenced the boost in tourism.
“The hurricanes in Puerto Rico, Florida and Texas redirected visitors to places like Kauai,” she wrote in an email to TGI. “Also, I think the eruption of Kilauea Volcano had some folks rebook to Kauai, which is why it was important to emphasize the map of Hawaii Island, so people could see how small the area was that had been affected.
Asked about successful marketing efforts, she said an emphasis by the Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau and the island chapters in the New York area with a foodie emphasis seemed to resonate with people in 2018.
She also said the 25th anniversary of “Jurassic Park” seemed to have quite a few movie buffs seeking out Kauai, and a press trip around the movie proved successful.
Looking to this year, Kanoho said KVB doesn’t have a specific goal. Whether or not it’s another strong tourism year depends on flights, global conditions and weather patterns, she added.
“Any one of those can have an impact,” she wrote. “We are just working to achieve balance for what we have now.”
Dan King, general manager of the Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort &Spa, said while the number of visitors to the island was up in 2018, the Hyatt’s occupancy remained consistent with the past few years.
“Our goal, which is in line with the Kauai Tourism Strategic Plan, is to see an increase in length of stay and spending on the island, not an increase in the number of arrivals,” he said. “This type of growth indicates guests are taking the time to experience activities on the island and enjoy Kauai’s beauty. To that end, our length of stay increased slightly in 2018 to 4.4 days.”
The HTA reported the average length of a visitor’s stay on Kauai in 2018 was 7.45 days, down slightly from 2017.
Nearly 10 million visitors came to Hawaii in 2018, an increase of 5.9 percent from the 9.4 million visitors in 2017. Total visitor days rose 5.3 percent in 2018. On average, there were 242,629 visitors in the Hawaiian Islands on any given day in 2018, up 5.3 percent from 2017.
Visitors to the Hawaiian Islands spent $17.8 billion in 2018, an increase of 6.8 percent compared to 2017, according to the HTA report. Spending by visitors generated $2.08 billion in state tax revenue in 2018, an increase of $133.1 million (plus 6.8 percent) from 2017.
Additionally, 217,000 jobs statewide were supported by Hawaii’s tourism industry in 2018, up 6.8 percent from 2017, HTA reported.
But not everyone is happy about rising tourism. Some have concerns that too many visitors have resulted in traffic problems and crowded beaches, put a strain on the island’s infrastructure, and are threatening the beauty, lifestyle and environment that makes the island so unique.
Kauai native and Kapaa resident Bill Fernandez, in a guest commentary published in TGI in October, called for regulations on the tourist industry.
“When I grew up on this island the sugar and pineapple economy dictated and regulated our lives. That economy is gone, replaced by the tourist industry. To keep our place unique, it must be regulated,” he wrote.
He pointed out that the tourism strategic plan outlined what could be done:
w Limit visitor numbers by caps on arrivals and visits to scenic spots.
w Develop alternative transportation like shuttle buses to visit specific destinations, such as Haena and Ke‘e Beach.
w Tax tourists by permits to visit places, and add entry fees and rental car fees.
w Place a moratorium on new accommodations, and limit the number of Airbnbs.
w Encourage longer visits: statistics show that the stayover visitor (overnight and longer) spends 15 to 25 times as much as the cruise ship or tour visitor — and they spend at local businesses.
w Better educate visitors.
“Fear that we will destroy the tourist economy by regulating it is often voiced by naysayers. It is a misplaced fear,” Fernandez wrote.
“To do nothing will destroy the place that is the very product that tourism sells,” he wrote. “If we as a community demonstrate by thoughtful regulation and marketing that we are making Kauai a quality place to visit, then people will come. People like to feel exclusive.”
The Kauai Chamber of Commerce, in its 2019 Policy Priorities, addresses tourism: “Recognizing the importance of tourism to our economy and the importance of managing the industry for the benefit of all, the Chamber will strongly support and encourage the implementation of the Kauai Tourism Strategic Plan (2019-2021) “Refocusing Tourism to Find Balance.”
Kanoho wrote that, based on the new tourism plan for Kauai, “we are looking at how to achieve balance for our island.”
Peter Ingram, president and CEO of Hawaiian Airlines, recently gave a presentation on Kauai. He was asked — due to increased tourism — if there was an opportunity for locals to have input on Hawaiian’s flights to the island.
He said that was possible. He highlighted environmental, economic and cultural concerns. The airline wants to be part of the effort to create balance between maintaining levels of tourism to support the economy, while protecting Kauai’s mountains, forests, beaches and the ocean, and being respectful of the culture.
“It’s actually a discussion we think is important for all of us in the community to engage in,” he said.
Bill Buley, editor-in-chief, can be reached at 245-0457 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jessica Else, staff writer, can be reached at 245-0452 or email@example.com.