Visitor numbers grow, county fares better than rest of state

By HARRY EAGAR, Staff Writer 

POSTED: March 31, 2010 

Maui County welcomed 174,027 visitors in February, a gain of more than 7 percent compared with the same month last year. Every other county showed an erosion in the already weak traffic count, although small ones. 

Maui island did even better with visitors who chose to stop at just one island, with those visits up 12.4 percent. Maui island’s increase in visitors in February comes on the heels of a 2.4 percent increase in January. February marks the second consecutive month of positive growth in visitor numbers since December 2005. 

The statistics are published by the Hawaii Tourism Authority. 

Although this was a February without a Pro Bowl on Oahu, overall the numbers held almost steady. The statewide count was 531,094, up 0.7 percent. Oahu was down 1 percent to 312,371. Kauai was off 3 percent to 69,896, and the Big Island fell 0.7 percent to 102,635. 

”Momentum from the strong fourth quarter in 2009 continued through February 2010 as anticipated,” said Mike McCartney, president and chief executive officer of the Hawaii Tourism Authority. ”We are especially pleased that despite the Pro Bowl not being in Hawaii this year, total visitor arrivals and spending held stable over last year.” 

Maui and the Big Island are showing net gains for the first months of the year, although early 2009 was a very slack time. In normal times, Maui would have closer to 200,000 visitors in February. 

Still, state Tourism Liaison Marsha Wienert was encouraged that things are starting to turn around, helped by an increase in flights. 

“We continue to be encouraged by the improving performance of our visitor industry. We also appreciate the unwavering commitment the industry has demonstrated in rejuvenating our economy,” she said. 

Flights from Canada and Asia were up by notable amounts, and since February even more Mainland routes have been added. 

“It is clear that the strengthening of international economies has resulted in increased demand for travel, and Hawaii has certainly benefited from this improvement,” Wienert said. 

For two months, Maui has welcomed 321,934 visitors, a gain of 4.8 percent. Visitor-days are up even more, by 5.5 percent, but discounting is keeping overall spending from rising as much. 

So far this year, per person per day spending on Maui is unchanged at $178.80. Statewide, however, it is down $4 to $171. February spending on Lanai averaged $261.10, down 27.1 percent; and visitors spend an average of $108.40 per day on Molokai, up 8.3 percent. 

Lanai tourism was up 10.5 in February to 5,789. Molokai tourism was down 3 percent to 4,246. 

Among the top four visitor markets, losses in arrivals by air from U.S. West (2.6 percent) and U.S. East (8.2 percent) were offset by growth from Japan (2.5 percent) and Canada (16.2 percent), the tourism authority said. 

For the first two months of 2010, total spending by air visitors grew $31.4 million to $1.8 billion, a 1.7 percent increase over the same two-month period last year, the authority said. Total visitor days rose 2.5 percent while total arrivals by air and cruise visitors increased 1.4 percent from the same period last year to 1 million visitors, it said. 

* The Associated Press contributed to this report. Harry Eagar can be reached at heagar@mauinews.com