Hawaii Island carries tourism statewide

HILO — An influx of Hawaii Island visitors has helped grow tourism statewide this year.

Through November, “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.

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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.”

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 Ellison Onizuka Kona International Airport 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.

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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. The state is nearing 9.5 million visitors annually, “which is unheard of,” Applegate said.

Email Jeff Hansel at jhansel@hawaiitribune-herald.com.