MVB head: Tourism growth set to level off

Though Maui’s tourism industry has enjoyed double-digit growth in the past three years, Maui Visitors Bureau Executive Director Terryl Vencl said businesses should expect those gains to “level off” soon.

The double-digit increases “can’t happen infinitely,” Vencl said Monday at a luncheon hosted by the Rotary Club of Kahului. “We’re going to begin to see some leveling off of (visitor) arrivals, expenditures and probably visitor days depending on airlines.”

Two areas tourism officials are watching closely are hotel room rates and airfares, Vencl said.

As of last month, Maui continued to have the highest hotel room rates in the state, with an average daily room rate of $296.15, according to statistics released by Hospitality Advisors Inc. Vencl said that the high room rates may be a factor in why visitors are spending less in other areas like restaurants or retail.

Others say that airline baggage fees are the reason visitors are spending less, even in times where visitor arrivals are climbing.

“With the (airline) baggage fees, tourists are less likely to buy stuff because they don’t want to pay additional baggage fees to take them home,” Lahaina shop owner Patrick McFeeley told the Maui News.

McFeeley said he and other West Maui shop owners have seen significant drops in their sales in recent years, and that tourists who visit his shop say they are not buying large, bulkier items because they cannot afford to ship them home.

Still, Vencl said that there are a number of ways for business owners to keep their operations afloat, with the first and foremost being as simple as a smile.

“Consumers are feeling a bit confident about the economy, but I’ll tell you, they’re still looking for value,” Vencl said. “That value comes from their experience, and that experience comes from you – businesses, hotels, retail, all the people that they touch when they’re on this island.

“Regardless of who the visitor is, a smile and a warm aloha goes so so so far. . . . Sometimes we get distracted or overworked and we forget that.”

In the meantime, tourism officials will be focusing on attracting more “first-time visitors,” who on average spend the most money and stay the longest. Vencl said that the Visitors Bureau will be focusing on securing more direct flights from the Midwest – Chicago, Detroit and St. Louis areas – as well as developing markets in Asian countries like Korea, China and Taiwan.

Rotarian Joan Martin asked Vencl what billionaire and Lanai island owner Larry Ellison’s influence would be in stimulating tourism on Lanai, which saw continued decreases in visitor arrivals, daily and total visitor expenditures and total visitor days in May, according to data released Friday by the Hawaii Tourism Authority.

“Well, there is one heck of a buzz out there, and I don’t see how that can do anything but help Lanai,” Vencl said. “I’m very excited. Things have been happening on that island that haven’t happened in a very long time. Even the manini things like opening up the swimming pool again to the residents.”

She said she is “very excited” to see what changes are in store for the former Pineapple Island.

The Rotary Club of Kahului has 35 active members, mostly business and professional leaders, who provide humanitarian aid and community service for a number of causes both locally and internationally.

“In this club, there are a lot of people who are business people, so we’re always interested in hearing from important people who are connected to the business community and to the industries that are part of the community,” club President Paul Janes-Brown said after the luncheon.

* Eileen Chao can be reached at