Maui Tourism Continues Positive Trend

‘Cautious optimism’ for tourism industry

December 1, 2010 – By HARRY EAGAR, Staff Writer Maui News
Visits to Maui County went up by 20 percent in October, compared with the same month last year – an increase that was more than double the gain reported in September.
In a further indication that the visitor industry recovery is gathering momentum, spending by visitors in Maui County was up 32.6 percent to $258.7 million in October. Spending per person per day rose 10 percent to $185 on Maui, 4.4 percent to $105 on Molokai and 8.3 percent to $313 on Lanai.

The percentage gains are somewhat misleading, since they are coming off the very depressed situation in October 2009. However, a visitor total of 180,882 for an October is fairly robust even by usual standards. The big gain in per person per day spending may indicate that hoteliers are beginning to back off from the heavy discounting they used earlier to keep head counts up.

The Flash Report from Hospitality Advisors later this month will reveal if that happened.

State tourism liaison Marsha Wienert said there has been some recovery in room rates but also in spending at retail shops and on activities and recreation.

“When the downturn started, per person per day spending went down in just about all categories except transportation,” she said.

October is considered a “shoulder month,” a sort of breather between the last summer rush of August and the start of the prime winter season, in late December.

Maui Visitors Bureau Executive Director Terryl Vencl said she was “very happy with the news,” although still nervous about international events that could work against Maui tourism.

“I am cautiously optimistic, but anything anywhere on the globe could could cause more issues for us,” she said.

She noted the jump in expenditures. “We have a long way to go from the deep discounting,” and as a shoulder month, not too much can be read into the results, but “all trends seem to be heading in the right direction,” Vencl said.

The rest of the state also enjoyed an October surprise, though not quite as big as Maui’s.

Oahu head count was up 10.3 percent to 348,702, and spending up was 20.7 percent to $484 million.

Kauai head count was up 7.9 percent to 79,009, and spending was up 29.4 percent to $99 million.

Hawaii County head count was up 13.8 percent to 104,404, and spending was up 23.8 percent to $117 million.

For the first 10 months, Maui County visitor numbers are up 9.6 percent to 1.8 million, and spending is up 19.9 percent to almost $2.5 billion.

“It’s been a challenging couple of years, but the improving national and international economy is boosting consumer confidence,” said Wienert. “This confidence will generate an increased desire to travel for both business and pleasure.”

Vencl attributed Maui’s gains to heavier marketing. “It’s from being out on the road. We’ve got to maintain that pressure,” she said.

Statewide, spending by visitors to Hawaii jumped 24.7 percent in October compared to the same month last year.

Spending rose as more travelers visited Hawaii and as they spent more on average during their stay, the Hawaii Tourism Authority said.

The gains followed a yearlong trend in which spending rose 14.7 percent for the first 10 months of 2010.

Hawaii Tourism Authority President Mike McCartney said he’s viewing the figures with ”cautious optimism.”

”While the trends are positive, we have not yet fully recovered. Therefore, we need to continue our efforts to aggressively market Hawaii to help drive demand,” McCartney said.

The agency said total visitor spending hit $961.5 million in October, up $190.6 million from October 2009. The number of visitors rose 13.6 percent to 574,425.

The greatest growth came from the West Coast, which sent 21.4 percent more visitors, and Canada, which sent 17.2 percent more.

The statistics are published by the Hawaii Tourism Authority. The authority is funded by the state hotel tax and promotes travel to Hawaii.

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