An influx of Hawaii Island tourists has helped grow tourism statewide.
For the first 11 months of 2017 in the county, “double-digit growth was realized both for visitor spending (plus 15.4 percent to $2.15 billion) and arrivals (plus 13.9 percent to 1,588,725) compared to 2016,” according to a report released Thursday by the Hawaii Tourism Authority.
Tourism numbers were strong in November — and for the year overall statewide — particularly for the Big Island.
“The future of growth, in my opinion, would be Hawaii Island,” said George Applegate, retired executive director of the Big Island Visitors Bureau.
If the Hawaii Island community shows aloha, treats tourists as guests and tells potential tourists about the island’s attributes, community members’ needs can be balanced with tourist needs, Applegate said.
“The community will receive the good results of careful growth,” said Applegate, the leadership and community consultant for the Grand Naniloa Hotel in Hilo. “But please remember, the main reason they’re coming to this island is this island is Hawaii Island.”
Tourists want that genuine experience, he said.
They can be attracted by the natural setting of the island rather than the “white sandy beaches, hula girls and coconut trees” they were looking for back when he was a bellboy during the 1960s, just a few years after statehood.
In Hawaii County during November, “arrivals from the Japan market soared 52.5 percent compared to last November,” the HTA report says.
Direct flights from Japan to Kona contributed to double the number of visitors from Japan who stayed exclusively on Hawaii Island through November. That was 5,714 people.
Arrivals from Canada to the Big Island grew 17.8 percent over the prior year in November. The number of visitors from the western U.S. grew by 12.9 percent, and from the eastern U.S. 11.7 percent.
Applegate said the one downside for Hawaii Island in 2017 was the loss of Island Air for interisland flights.
But another airline will pick up the slack, he said. He also predicts more direct flights will come to Hawaii Island and that those should continue to spur growth in tourism. Focusing on Hawaii Island’s attributes of clean water, solar energy, off-grid living and a natural environment make it a top destination, he said. Few places can offer the blue skies, the serenity of Hilo Bay and the many attractions available in the natural environment of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, he said.
The state is nearing 9.5 million visitors annually, “which is unheard of,” Applegate said.
As of November, the state recorded 8.5 million visitors, who spent $200 per person on average daily, for a combined spending of $15.2 billion statewide, according to the HTA.
Total airline seat capacity to the state for scheduled seats grew 5 percent in November to 964,993, the tourism authority reported, and it grew 14.6 percent to 7,471 for chartered seats.
That offset the slight decrease in cruise ship visits in November (down 0.8 percent, to 19,038 people).
Through November, a total of 62 out of state cruise ships brought 114,581 visitors to Hawaii this year, the HTA reported. Last year, there were 53 ships carrying 103,538 visitors.
Email Jeff Hansel at email@example.com.