Where are Hawaii’s international visitors coming from? When looking at the dollar receipts from travelers, rather than just the number of visitors, you capture the real export effect, and you can see the nationalities that tend to spend more money – the ones you really want to bring in, right? Geography will cause profound differences, but let’s compare the national results with what’s happening in Hawaii.
We will use Hawaii’s preliminary data for inbound visitors in 2009, the latest available. I’d like to be able to take a detailed look at which visitors spent the most money, but I haven’t seen those numbers yet. We’ll just have to see what we find using the simple visitor counts that have been published by the Hawaii Tourism Authority. Hawaii attracted 6,419,138 visitors in 2009, but the bulk of those were from the mainland United States. As our interest is exports, we need to back those out and recompute things. Taking the US visitors away leaves us with 2,139,442 international visitors. So where did they come from?
The biggest source by far was Japan, contributing more than 52 percent of international traffic. Next up was Canada (I saw plenty of Canadians at our Hawaii Scottish Festival a couple weeks back) with nearly 16 percent. Australia was our 3rd largest market (just short of 6 percent). South Korea came in 4th (2.6 percent), followed by China and the United Kingdom (virtually tied at about 2.1 percent each). Here are Hawaii’s top ten markets compared to the entire United States, using just visitor counts for 2009 to be comparable:
Hawaii’s Top 10 US Top 10
Japan (52%) Canada (33%)
Canada (16%) Mexico (23%)
Australia (6%) United Kingdom (7.6%)
South Korea (2.6%) Japan (5.3%)
China (2.1%) Germany (3.1%)
United Kingdom (2.1%) France (2.3%)
Germany (1.5%) Italy (1.4%)
New Zealand (0.8%) Brazil (1.5%)
Italy (0.5%) South Korea (1.3%)
Taiwan (0.5%) Australia (1.3%)
A few things leap off the page here. Hawaii has no land borders so we don’t have the drive-in business that the mainland gets from Canada and Mexico. And it is only natural that Hawaii should get more traffic from countries that are an easy flight away, rather than on the other side of the world. So the predominance of Asian markets isn’t surprising.
There is a worrisome over-dependence on the Japanese market. Having 52 percent of your customers from a single supplier leaves you wide open to economic, geopolitical, or even fashion setbacks in that market. Visitor traffic can swing quickly, so this is troubling.
What may be surprising is that traffic from Europe still shows up in the top ten, despite distance, expensive flights, and almost no spending to lure these customers. And the absence of Latin American visitors is interesting, despite changing planes in Los Angeles or Dallas, total flight times for Latin American visitors are really no worse than for some of Hawaii’s Asian customers.