Occupancy trend dips; MVB head unworried

August’s continuing trend of lower occupancy coupled with higher daily room rates in Maui resorts is part of a “stabilization” of the tourism market on the island, said the executive director of the Maui Visitors Bureau.

“I think that what we are seeing is the stabilization of the arrivals and the occupancy numbers,” said Terryl Vencl on Tuesday, reacting to tourism data released in the monthly Hospitality Advisors and Smith Travel Research report.

Vencl has been saying for the last several months that the recent trend of double-digit increases in visitor arrivals since the depths of the Great Recession that battered the industry in 2009 “are just not sustainable.”

Those increases were fueled by airlines adding flights to Maui, she said, but now airlines are beginning to evaluate the added flights, keeping those that are doing well and rerouting those that aren’t.

What that has meant for Maui hotels was a 1.7 percentage point decline in hotel occupancy in August, compared to the same month in 2012, to 73.3 percent, the Hospitality Advisors report said. Still, island hotels logged their highest average daily room rate for the month, $288.46, up 7.3 percent. The revenue per available room, or RevPAR, for August was $211.44, up 4.8 percent.

In explaining the occupancy decline, the report cited a 3.4 percent drop in visitors choosing to stay in hotels. That figure did not seem to alarm Vencl, who said that this was expected “when you have such a high repeat visitor rate as we do . . . 60 percent.”

The typical visitor may stay at a hotel for his first or second visits but by the third visit may look to stay at less expensive alternatives such as condos, bed-and-breakfasts or family in some cases, she said. It doesn’t mean that visitors are spending less; they are spending their money on other activities or bringing their families on vacation, she explained.

The luxury resort region of Wailea logged a 3.7 percentage point decline in occupancy to 76.1 percent in August, compared to last August, but room rates rose 10.9 percent to $471.98 and RevPAR grew 5.8 percent to $359.18, the report said.

The occupancy rate at the five-star Four Seasons Resort Maui at Wailea was higher than the Wailea average, according to Crissa Hiranaga, marketing and public relations coordinator for the resort. The resort was in the mid to high 80 percent in occupancy from August to September, she said, adding that the resort was in the high 90 percent occupancy Tuesday.

“We are doing extremely well,” she said. “This summer was fantastic.”

The Four Seasons even is doing well in the so-called “shoulder” months of the visitor season, the usually down period between the end of the summer and the beginning of the holiday season around Thanksgiving.

Hiranaga couldn’t put her finger on exactly why the resort is doing so well, with occupancies in the 90 percent, during the usually down season. The resort’s neighbors also appear to be thriving, she said.

Among the possible influences are the increasing number of flights and competitive airfares to Maui and attractive packages, and the resort sales staff, which has arranged key group bookings, Hiranaga said.

“It does seem like the shoulder seasons are less prominent than they once were,” Vencl added.

She said the Hawaii Tourism Authority has been trying to help fund events during this normally down time to attract visitors, such as the EA Sports Maui Invitational basketball tournament and the Aloha Festivals activities.

“Maui is such a great destination for all kinds of travelers,” said Hiranaga.

The island has beaches, an ocean for snorkeling, paddle boarding and surfing; waterfalls; Haleakala and places to hike, she said. And unlike some places on Kauai, where a person has to paddle or hike to see waterfalls, most activities on Maui are easily accessible.

“Everyone can get a vacation that is perfect for them,” she said.

The other major tourist sector of Maui, the Lahaina-Kaanapali-Kapalua area, logged a 3.5 percentage point decline in occupancy in August to 73.6 percent, but the average daily room rate rose 6.3 percent to $254.70 and the RevPAR grew 1.5 percent to $187.46.

“Other Maui” actually logged a 0.4 percentage point increase in occupancy in August to 73 percent compared to 2012 while room rates and RevPAR grew, too – 7.5 percent to $327.84 and 8 percent to $239.32 respectively.

The trend of rising room rates and RevPAR in recent reports offer good news for the bottom lines of resorts, but Vencl warns that there is a point where the market will no longer bear growing prices. This is true in the hotel industry as it is in other business sectors, she said.

The trick during this period is to find the “price point” that will lead to continued health, she said.

“While we are seeing the stabilization (of the industry) happen, we are not done,” Vencl said.

The August survey included 162 properties and 48,361 rooms, or 85.1 percent of all lodging properties with 20 or more rooms in Hawaii. The survey generally excludes properties with fewer than 20 units, such as small bed-and-breakfasts and single-family vacation rentals and condominiums.

* Lee Imada can be reached at leeimada@mauinews.com.