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Hawaii's Tourism Comeback Fueled By Air Travel

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(Photo: Stock.xchng)
(Photo: Stock.xchng)


  • Tourism in Hawaii during recession plunged nearly 15% from 2007 to 2009
  • Hawaii’s tourism numbers now on upswing
  • Reasons for revival include new emphasis on air service and help from US government

The latest tourism statistics show that Hawaii’s visitor count was up by 4% in 2011 over the previous year, recording nearly 7.3 million visitors total.

During the recession, tourism in Hawaii plunged close to 15%, and though the new numbers are still short of the state’s record year in 2006, the outlook is good. "We have seen a healthy demand for Hawaii globally," says Mike McCartney, president of the state-run Hawaii Tourism Authority.

“Hawaii is seeing solid recovery in tourism, with increases in both arrivals and spending by tourists,” says the Associated Press.

Numbers show another healthy trend: visitors are spending more. In fact, spending by tourists in December reached a monthly record of $1.3 billion, pushing the year’s total to $12.58 billion, or just off the yearly record of $12.62 billion set in 2007, said the AP.

How has Hawaii regained its spot as a tourist Mecca? Tourism officials cite several reasons, including efforts to promote the islands to countries with strong currencies that allow them to buy more in Hawaii.

For example, in 2011 Hawaii drew 32% more tourists from Australia, nearly 30% more from China and some 7% more visitors from Brazil compared with the year before, according to tourism officials. "We moved toward a global marketing strategy," McCartney told the LA Times. "We took our core, and we took off on it."

Hawaii’s Key to Success

Since most visitors to the islands arrive by air, tourism officials looked to transportation to revive the market, with the Hawaii tourism authority upping its budget from $5 million in 2010 to $6 million in 2011.

Hawaiian Airlines, the state’s largest carrier, not long ago announced a partnership with JetBlue Airways to fly out of JetBlue's gates at New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport. The move will give East Coast tourists direct flights to Hawaii, starting in June.

The airline also increased flights in December from Sydney, Australia, to Honolulu from five flights a week to daily service. In addition, Hawaiian Airlines has plans to increase its direct flights from Seoul to Honolulu from four times a week to daily, starting in July.

The islands are also now welcoming many more Korean tourists since the US waived the need for South Koreans to obtain visitor visas, reports Chris Tatum, VP for Marriott International Inc., which operates nine hotels in Hawaii.

"The efforts we've made to promote Hawaii in Korea have had an impact, and when you throw in the visa waiver program and the improving economy, we are excited about the potential from Korea," Tatum said.

Key Statistics - Tourism in Hawaii (source: Hawaii Tourism Authority)

  • There was a 7.8% growth in total arrivals to Hawaii in December, with over 683,290 visitors.
  • Visitor spending increased last year to a total of nearly $12.6 billion, which was the second-highest level of visitor spending in the history of tourism in Hawaii.
  • Daily spending per person in December in Hawaii reached a record high of $185, or up from $169 the same month in 2010.

By David Wilkening for
David Wilkening is a former newspaperman who worked in Chicago, Detroit and Orlando. He now specializes in travel and real-estate business writing.

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