BY MIKE MCCARTNEY – 2011 was an outstanding year for Hawai‘i’s tourism economy, with momentum and growth seen across the Hawaiian Islands. The strong numbers could not have been achieved without the hard work and dedication of our visitor industry, as well as the one-of-a-kind destination Hawaii is, through our people, place and culture.
The month of December 2011 reached $1.298 billion in visitor spending, the highest single month on record. Despite the tragedy in Japan last March, we were still able to exceed overall 2010 numbers in spending and arrivals. Since 2009, we have seen consistent growth in our tourism economy that has helped us achieve these strong numbers. However, we recognize that we are still recovering from hard economic times, and businesses continue to face challenges.
By focusing on developing the brand experience through signature events such as the Hawai‘i Food and Wine Festival, PGA Tour events, Hawaiian Islands Invitational Soccer Tournament and Mele Mei, the HTA plans to maintain the growth across the islands throughout 2012. These events, often held during the typically slower shoulder periods, provide a boost to our tourism economy while providing for our community.
Airlift and access to the Hawaiian Islands is essential for our visitor industry to flourish. This year we saw significant increases in airlift to our state from emerging and established markets contributing to the strong year in visitor spending and arrivals. The HTA has worked with our airline partners to establish more direct flights servicing the neighbor islands, which has helped to contribute to longer length of stay on the four major islands and in turn higher visitor spending. We anticipate the announcement of new routes in the first half of 2012, which will also help us continue with the momentum we saw last year.
The Meetings, Conventions and Incentives (MCI) market continued to grow in 2011, up 11.2 percent over 2010. While we were pleased with this increase and are hopeful for a strong 2012 for the MCI market, we continue to look to build and grow this market and are aware of the need to fill the current backlog for future year bookings.
The first quarter of 2012 looks strong. We will continue to work together with our marketing partners and the visitor industry to sustain the momentum we saw last year and achieve steady growth for another momentous year in 2012.
Mike McCartney is President and CEO of the Hawai‘i Tourism Authority