Strong year for Big Island tourism

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For the ninth consecutive month, visitor arrivals to Hawaii have broken monthly tourism records.

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For the ninth consecutive month, visitor arrivals to Hawaii have broken monthly tourism records.

Statewide, November arrivals were up 3.7 percent compared to last year, according to a Tuesday release from the Hawaii Tourism Authority.

The Big Island saw an increase of 0.5 percent compared to last November, with 107,558 arrivals.

Though the increase was small, it nevertheless meant good news for tourism.

“What I was looking for in our November numbers was to see if we’d had any effects from dengue fever,” said Big Island Visitors Bureau Executive Director Ross Birch. “I don’t think, as of November, we have. I think we’ve held pretty steady.”

November visitor expenditures on the island topped $143 million, an increase of 2.6 percent.

Though December numbers will not be available until next year, Birch said the month was shaping up to be another good one.

“From what I’m hearing, a tip here and there, if we get through … dengue, we’ll be even stronger,” he said. “First quarter (2016) is going to be even better than first quarter last year.”

Between dengue fever this year and concerns about the June 27 lava flow last year, the island has had a number of potential deterrents.

“We’ve been resilient, let’s just say that,” Birch said.

In one instance, the promise of lava was a pull rather than a push.

“I think the inflation of Kilauea, Halema‘uma‘u, was definitely a huge attraction for a period of time,” Birch said.

The lava lake at Kilauea’s summit began to rise April 23, with lava visible for more than three weeks and, at one point, spilling onto the floor of Halema‘uma‘u Crater.

The phenomenon significantly boosted attendance at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Visits were up 10.36 percent in April and more than 37 percent in May.

“The rise of the lava lake … is definitely part of the reason for increased visitation from April onward,” said park Superintendent Cindy Orlando. She said May numbers also received help from the park’s BioBlitz and Biodiversity and Cultural Festival.

Even without the activity at Halema‘uma‘u, the year has been a busy one for park visitation, with attendance increasing nearly every month as compared to 2014. Orlando cited a new awareness of the entire national park system as a factor in increased attendance.

The National Park Service and HVNP both will celebrate their 100th birthdays in 2016.

According to the tourism authority, November also saw an increase in visitors who vacationed exclusively on the Big Island, with numbers up 4.7 percent compared to last year.

“I love to see that statistic, myself,” Birch said. “That’s a good feather in our cap to know that we have the product that people want to stay here.”

It is also becoming easier to get here.

The Hilo tourism market is recovering from a reduction in airline seats after United Airlines cut back its schedule last year.

And in Kona, there has been an 18.5 percent increase in seats coming into Kona International Airport.

This year, the number of airline seats approached 850,000, bolstered by a new San Diego route on Alaska Airlines. On Dec. 19, Delta added a direct Kona-Seattle route. Air Canada has new seasonal routes to Vancouver.

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“We don’t see any reduction in those seats forecast at least through the first part of the year,” Birch said. “Through summer, we should still be holding onto that.”

Email Ivy Ashe at iashe@hawaiitribune-herald.com.