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Tourism benefits from disasters and safety threats elsewhere

Updated: 
September 27, 2017 - 11:01am

HONOLULU — A devastating Atlantic hurricane season, along with concerns about safety in Mexico and Europe, could propel Hawaii’s visitor industry to an even stronger finish in 2018, which was already anticipated to be tourism’s best year.

“No one wants to say that we are benefiting from someone else’s misfortune, but we’ve seen a big pickup in September as people have moved away from the destinations impacted by the hurricanes and from Mexico and Europe,” said Keith Vieira, principal of KV &Associates Hospitality Consulting LLC. “August had slipped a little bit for a lot of people, but September is now coming on very strong.”

Jack Richards, president and CEO of Pleasant Holidays, Hawaii’s largest travel seller, said the company has seen an increase in bookings from people who would have gone to the Caribbean, Mexico or Europe if not for concerns over storm devastation or safety.

The U.S. Department of State issued a travel advisory Aug. 22 warning U.S. citizens about certain parts of Mexico. According to the advisory, “U.S. citizens have been the victims of violent crimes, including homicide, kidnapping, carjacking, and robbery in various Mexican states.”

The department also issued an alert Aug. 31 cautioning U.S. citizens about the continued threat of terrorism throughout Europe, specifically mentioning recent attacks in France, Russia, Sweden, the United Kingdom, Spain and Finland.

This year’s Atlantic hurricane season has brought 13 named storms, including the particularly devastating Franklin, Harvey, Irma, Katia, Jose and Maria. The various storms have created problems for Texas, Louisiana, Florida, Georgia, New England, the Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Cuba, the Bahamas and the southern and western Caribbean islands.

Richards said storm devastation slowed travel at first, but in the last three weeks Hawaii began to see extra gains. Pleasant Holidays helped the effort by offering $250 credits to people whose travel plans were affected by storm devastation to change their bookings to Hawaii.

At the same time, Richards said the market has benefited from low fuel prices and additional air seats, which have reduced the cost of a Hawaii vacation. New high-end hotel capacity added recently has renewed travel interest, he said.

“Whether it’s an unfortunate incident on the East Coast or Hawaii, someone is going to benefit from having the better weather. This time it’s Hawaii, and we have been picking up some of the relocated business,” said Jerry Gibson, area vice president of Hilton Hawaii.

The Hawaii Tourism Authority said these latest gains are bringing Hawaii closer to achieving its sixth year of tourism gains in spending and arrivals. The Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism’s Aug. 11 forecast anticipates visitor spending will reach $16.8 billion this year when 290,000 more visitors arrive than last year, bringing the total to 9.2 million.

“Travel demand has exceeded all expectations,” said George Szigeti, head of the Hawaii Tourism Authority.

DBEDT anticipates that arrivals will grow to 9.4 million visitors in 2018, a 1.4 percent gain over 2017. Expenditures are expected to reach $17.1 billion next year, hitting a new tourism benchmark when it surpasses 2017 expenditures by 2.2 percent.

Richards said those estimates don’t do current conditions justice.

“I’m more bullish on Hawaii for 2018 than I’ve been for the past 10 years,” Richards said. “I’m predicting double-digit growth. We’re already booking for 2019.”

Foul weather from this hurricane season hasn’t touched Hawaii so far, but tourism officials still remember Hurricane Iniki, which battered Kauai in September 1992. That’s why they used last week’s Global Tourism Summit to collect money to help the victims of Harvey and Irma. Hawaii Tourism Authority raised approximately $4,000 by donating $20 from every registration received the week before the summit to the cause. During the summit, Szigeti encouraged attendees to donate directly to the Red Cross via an event app.

“Join us in supporting the Red Cross as they help those victims of Harvey and Irma to rebuild their lives,” Szigeti told summitgoers. “We saw these past two weeks how quickly people’s lives in Texas, Louisiana and Florida were tragically affected by Harvey and Irma. These hurricanes occurred as we were reminded about the 25th anniversary of Hurricane Iniki and the massive destruction it caused for the residents of Kauai. We all know such tragedy can happen again in Hawaii.”

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