Tourism authority predicts increase in cruise ship, passenger arrivals

  • Norwegian Cruise Lines’ Pride of America cruise ship shown in port in June in Hilo. (HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald)

HILO — Hawaii Island is expected to see a bump in cruise ship visitors in 2018 as the cruise industry continues to grow.

According to data from the Hawaii Tourism Authority, as of September cruise ship passenger traffic to the Big Island is 20 percent greater than this point last year, with nearly 172,000 passengers visiting so far.


Ross Birch, executive director of the Island of Hawaii Visitors Bureau, said the latest uptick in cruise traffic — 2016 saw a 17 percent boost from the previous year — is partly the consequence of convenience: The Hilo port is well-suited for large vessels such as cruise ships. Several cruise lines, seeking to reduce the number of port calls, have altered their routes to use Hilo’s port.

However, Birch said new lines have added the Big Island to their routes, with other lines adding more seasonal traffic than before.

“The volcanoes are a popular destination for people, so there’s a lot of demand,” Birch said.

Approximately 95 percent of all cruise passengers to the state passed through Hilo this year, according to the most recent data from the Hawaii Tourism Authority. In fact, more passengers visited the Big Island this year than visited the entire state in 2016.

Birch said the cruise industry is anticipated to continue growing steadily for the next several years, although he noted the industry’s success is primarily tied to customer demand, which can be unpredictable. However, the increase in passengers is a sign of health as the industry gradually recovers from stagnant demand following the global financial recession in 2008.

“We’re not quite back at where we were during our boom years in 2005,” Birch. “But we’re getting there.”

“They’re anticipating a 5 percent increase each year after year,” Birch said, referring to the cruise lines that service the state.

However, cruise traffic might exceed that estimate in the spring, when cruise lines typically see their highest traffic.

Seventy-six ships are expected to stop at Hilo between now and the end of June, nearly 30 more than have visited the state between the start of 2017 and the end of September. Based on the ships’ maximum passenger capacity, up to 30,000 cruise passengers might visit the island each month.

The MS Pride of America, owned by Norwegian Cruise Lines and which carries 2,250 passengers, will account for nearly half of those 76 visits, with an additional 17 visits by three sister ships owned by Princess Cruises, which carry more than 3,000 passengers each.

The potential for thousands of tourists each month has obvious benefits for the island. In 2016, cruise passengers spent $67.3 million while visiting Hawaii Island.


“Obviously, the cruise line industry is definitely critical for Hilo,” Birch said. “So I think we can all look forward to a period of steady, sustainable growth.”

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