Good news:Hawaii's tourist decline eases in April. Bad news: They spent less.
Visitor arrivals last month dipped a modest 1.3 percent from April 2008, a major improvement over the double-digit declines that have dominated the past 12 months.
Part of the improvement is because Aloha Airlines and ATA both ceased operations at the end of March 2008. So April was the first month when the year-on-year arrival numbers did not reflect the drop in passengers from those two airlines.
Beginning with April, "statistical comparisons between 2009 and 2008 will better reflect the health of the visitor industry in Hawai'i," said state tourism liaison Marsha Wienert.
Discounts at airlines and hotels also contributed to the smaller drop in arrivals.
"I don't think we've ended it yet but at least the downward momentum has slowed," said Outrigger Enterprises president and CEO David Carey.
Carey said discounts offered now represent "the most aggressive rate-cutting that I've seen maybe in my adult career."
Still, tourism officials say it's too early to call an end to the slump that started about a year ago. They noted that while arrivals were off by only 1.3 percent, spending was still down by double digits.
Spending by visitors arriving by air in April fell 12.3 percent, or $108.1 million, from April of last year, to $773.4 million. Average daily visitor spending fell to $160 per person, down from $186 per person in April 2008.
"I think people are hanging on to their cash," said Valerie Lamoureux, owner of the Cold Stone Creamery on Kalakaua Avenue. Lamoureux said she normally has 10 to 12 employees working a summer evening shift dishing out ice cream. Now, she's down to three.
"There just aren't as many people on the street," she said.
Swine Flu's impact
Hotel executive Keith Vieira said the numbers may get worse this month. Swine flu has since put a huge dent in visitors from Japan and the continuing worldwide economic downturn has further eroded the number of visitors coming this month, he said.
Waikiki was starting to show signs of recovery until fears of swine flu prompted millions of dollars worth of canceled trips from Japan and skipped bookings over the summer, said Vieira, senior vice president and director of operations for Starwood Hotels & Resorts in Hawai'i and French Polynesia.
"We had massive cancellations from Japan that are still continuing," he said.
Colorado mother and daughter Mia and Amber Morrison said they had planned a Hawai'i family vacation for their family of four for some time and were not discouraged by the economy or flu news.
"We knew we wanted to come here," Amber said.
"The planes were full," her mother added.
A Waikiki store, 88 Tees, that caters to Japanese tourists with a wide selection of hip T-shirts was bustling yesterday at midday.
"I don't think we've seen a big change in our customer base," said Joe Heaukulani, who has worked there since 1997. With two Waikiki stores, the shop has earned a reputation as a must-stop for Japanese tourists. "It's still pretty steady for us."
Total visitor days for air and cruise visitors in April 2009 grew 1.8 percent from last April. Visitors' average length of stay was 9.13 days, compared with 8.85 days in the same month last year. Total arrivals by air and cruise visitors dipped 1.3 percent from April 2008.
Among the top four visitor markets, April 2009 air arrivals from the U.S. West declined 1.6 percent, while air arrivals from the U.S. East fell 6.5 percent from last April.
Arrivals by air from Japan rose 8.8 percent, the largest increase since March 2005, which saw an 11.6 percent increase. Arrivals by air from Canada were up 6.9 percent, the first increase since October 2008.
Total expenditures by visitors who came by air in the first four months of 2009 declined 16.7 percent compared with the same period last year, to $3.4 billion.
For the first four months of 2009, total visitor days for air and cruise visitors declined 10 percent. Total arrivals by air and cruise dropped 11.1 percent from the same period last year, to 2,146,975 visitors.
Year-to-date, arrivals by air totaled 2,097,448 visitors, 11.5 percent fewer compared with the same period last year. The average daily spending was $168 per person, down from $181 per person from the first four months of 2008.