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2017 was a strong year for tourism on the Big Island

Hawaii Island tourism contributed in a big way to another record-breaking year for the state’s visitor industry.

According to data from the Hawaii Tourism Authority, arrivals to the Big Island increased by 13.7 percent from 2016, from 1.5 million to 1.7 million. These arrivals spent more than $2 billion on the island last year, about 14 percent more than in 2016.

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This boost corresponded with a 5 percent increase in tourist arrivals statewide, from 8.9 million to 9.3 million, and a 6 percent increase in revenue, to more than $16 billion.

According to HTA data, there were more than 230,000 tourists on the Hawaiian Islands — and more than 35,000 on Hawaii Island — during any given day, who generated nearly $2 billion in state tax revenue.

For the sixth consecutive year, the state reached record levels for visitor spending, visitor arrivals, tax revenue generated, airline seats and jobs supported statewide.

Ross Birch, president of the Island of Hawaii Visitors Bureau, said arrivals to the Big Island have been steadily increasing the past four years thanks to increasing demand.

“You create demand for a destination and then airlines will look for a good location,” Birch said.

Hawaii Island saw the greatest increase out of all the state’s islands thanks to a 40 percent increase in airline traffic in the past three years, with several new regular flights established in December.

In particular, new direct flights from Tokyo to Kona increased Japanese air traffic to the Big Island by 38 percent and more than doubled the amount of Japanese visitors who stayed exclusively on the Big Island, Birch said.

Meanwhile, air traffic to Hilo increased by 7 percent thanks to added flights from Los Angeles. Visitors spent, on average, $185 per day for eight days on the Big Island.

Cruise ship traffic to the Big Island improved significantly as well, increasing by more than 13 percent from 211,448 passengers in 2016 to 239,347 last year. Most months last year saw about 15 percent more cruise passengers arrive on the island than the previous year.

“I think we’ll see 2018 being just as strong,” Birch said, although he suspects this year’s rate of growth will not be as strong as that of last year.

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Birch said tourism still has “room to grow” on the Big Island, which has trailed behind the state’s average hotel occupancy rates for several years. At its current rate of growth, Birch said, the island could catch up with the rest of the state this year.

Email Michael Brestovansky at mbrestovansky@hawaiitribune-herald.com.