Visitors are ‘exercising caution’; dip in spending for Maui County

Last month, total visitor expenditures increased in all counties except Maui County, according to data released Thursday by the Hawaii Tourism Authority.

While spending in Hawaii increased by 1.8 percent in April, the island of Maui saw a slight decrease of total visitor expenditures, down 1.7 percent to $295 million, compared to the same period last year. Lanai saw the greatest percentage change of all the islands in total visitor expenditures – a drop of 36.9 percent to $6.1 million.

More than 190,000 people visited Maui last month, 2.4 percent more visitors than in April 2012. However, visitors spent, on average, about 5 percent less – about $202 per day, down from $213.

Still, arrivals and spending this year on Maui continue to pace ahead of last year, reaching more than 800,000 arrivals and $1.3 billion in visitor spending since January.

In April, Lanai saw the greatest decline of all the islands in visitor arrivals, length of stay, daily spending and total expenditures. Visitor arrivals dropped 11.3 percent from last year, daily visitor spending shrunk nearly 20 percent and total expenditures plunged by nearly 37 percent. (Because of small numbers of visitors for Molokai and Lanai, percentage increases or decreases can be magnified for those islands.)

Molokai saw a 3 percent decrease in visitor arrivals but an 8.4 percent increase in daily visitor spending. The island’s total expenditures were the only in the county that saw a growth – about 11 percent to $2.1 million, up from last year’s $1.9 million.

“We will continue to see reductions in the average length of stay and per person per day spending as visitors exercise caution in reaching their budgeted spending limits,” said Mike McCartney, president and chief executive officer of the Hawaii Tourism Authority.

“We anticipate this trend to continue through May and the first half of June, until we head into the summer travel season,” he said in a statement.

McCartney added that factors like currency exchange rates and travel costs, as well as competition from other destinations, may have played a role in last month’s moderate growth.

Statewide, visitor arrivals grew by 3.1 percent to 667,000 visitors in April, with more than half, or 392,000 visitors, going to Oahu. Oahu had the greatest increase in visitor arrivals, up 5.6 percent from last year’s 371,000 visitors. The island of Maui saw an increase of 2.4 percent to 190,464 visitors. All other Neighbor Islands saw a decrease in visitor arrivals.

Statewide visitor expenditures in April rose 1.8 percent from last year to $1.1 billion, with the average daily spending unchanged at $191 per person. In the first four months of 2013, total visitor expenditures grew 6.3 percent to $5 billion. Total arrivals to the islands increased 6.1 percent to nearly 2.8 million visitors.

While tourism in Hawaii this year seems to have leveled off after last year’s period of double-digit gains in both visitor arrivals and spending, one tourism official noted that statewide numbers are still higher this year than they were last year.

“Trends may be smaller increases than last year, but still increases,” Maui Visitors Bureau Executive Director Terryl Vencl said in an email Thursday. “I see some softening in expenditures as prices increase and compression comes into play, but a steady smaller growth will allow small businesses to grow and expand.”

She added that airfare, room rates and availability will affect tourism on Maui in the future.

“We have to continue to convince the consumer that a vacation to Maui Nui is worth it in dollars, value and uniqueness,” she said.

* Eileen Chao can be reached at