Visitor arrivals up, slower growth forecast


HONOLULU — The number of visitors coming to Hawaii in the first three months of the year surged 7.1 percent to 2.1 million, but tourism officials said Thursday the industry’s growth will likely slow later in 2013.

Nearly 10 percent more travelers arrived in the islands from western U.S. states compared with January through March of last year, the Hawaii Tourism Authority said. The number of travelers from Japan climbed 5 percent.

Mike McCartney, the state tourism agency’s CEO, said he expects to see more moderate growth in coming months.

“Spending and arrivals have been on the upswing, but there has been a decrease in visitor average length of stay for markets like U.S. West and Canada, which could be an indication that visitors may be reaching their spending threshold,” McCartney said in a statement.

A reduction in the number of direct flights from the East Coast and a weakening Japanese yen may also slow growth, he said.

The agency plans to continue luring business travelers for meetings and encouraging visitors to travel to the neighbor islands. It intends to continue supporting the addition of direct flights to Hawaii from South Korea, China, Taiwan, Australia and New Zealand while maintaining marketing efforts in the U.S. mainland, Canada and Japan.

“Due to the fragile nature of the tourism economy, the HTA understands the importance of sustaining and diversifying global market share in an industry based on discretionary spending,” McCartney said.

Visitors spent $3.9 billion in the state from January through March, up 7.6 percent from the same quarter last year. The biggest increase came from western U.S. travelers, who spent 18.7 percent more, and eastern U.S. visitors, who spent 8.3 percent more.

Tourism arrivals hit a record 8 million last year as a recovering global economy, strong yen, stable oil prices and the addition of more direct flights encouraged more people to visit the islands. The previous record of 7.6 million was reached in 2006.

The tourism agency said last month it expects 8.5 million people will visit Hawaii this year.