Tuesday | May 23, 2017
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Short visits, long-term benefits: Big Island sees rise in number of day-trippers

Big Island tourism had another strong showing in the first quarter of 2017, with one market in particular seeing a boost.

Visitor numbers from the mainland, Japan and Canada all increased by double-digits over 2016 numbers, according to a report from the Hawaii Tourism Authority.

And in March, the number of day-trip visitors to Hawaii Island jumped 27 percent over 2016 numbers. April numbers have not been reported.

The HTA also noted an increase in single-day visits to all islands, attributing this to more cruise ship visitors.

On Hawaii Island, people are just as likely to arrive by plane.

“There are more and more day-trippers flying from Maui and Oahu,” said Ross Birch, executive director of the Island of Hawaii Visitors Bureau. “It’s all because of the air access.”

Interest in short visits is largely due to people wanting to see Kilauea’s eruptions.

“The volcano is definitely the No. 1 pusher for that,” Birch said. Because flights into Hilo are limited, more people also are connecting through Kona International Airport and making the trip around the island.

“I know for sure that a lot of our Korean and Japanese visitors are connecting to Island Air or Hawaiian (Airlines) into Kona,” Birch said.

Tour companies in Hilo said the day visitors have been a stable presence at their businesses.

“For us, it’s just been steady,” said Mike Los Banos, who handles Hilo operations for Roberts Hawaii. Roberts’ day tours include stops at Rainbow Falls and Richardson Ocean Park before heading south to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and, specifically, Halema‘uma‘u Crater’s lava lake.

“Hopefully it gets dark enough to see the glow,” Los Banos said. “That’s the big thing; they want to see the glow.”

Birch said he first started paying attention to day-trip visitors last year when the lava lake began rising.

“It was just this huge flood (of people),” he said. “There was a specific cause … now it’s more a general thing.”

The number of commercial vehicles — namely, tour buses — entering the national park has been increasing since December. That’s a good indicator of day-trip visits, but not an exact one, said park spokeswoman Jessica Ferracane.

“What’s challenging is we don’t ask visitors at the entrance if they’re only here for the day,” she said.

Park visitation in general has been increasing every year since 2009. Last year, nearly 2 million people visited the park.

“Our numbers do reflect HTA’s,” Ferracane said.

Birch said the boost in day-trip numbers was good for the long-term tourism outlook.

“It is a great market for us because we have such a great return customer ratio,” he said. “If we can get (people) here even for a day trip, the chance of converting to a return guest is very probable … it’s shorter than we prefer, but it gets them a taste of what they can enjoy more of.”

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

 

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