Maui breaks visitor arrival record

Maui island set a new record for visitor arrivals in 2015, welcoming 2,527,204 – the first time more than 2.5 million visitors came to the Valley Isle, according to Hawaii Tourism Authority and state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism records dating back to 1990.

The island’s total for the year is 4.9 percent more than 2014, and it’s 2.6 percent more than the previous arrival record of 2,463,595 set in 2007, a year before the recession hit. The island’s visitor arrival low point was 1.89 million visitors in 2009.

Maui Visitors Bureau Executive Director Terryl Vencl said breaking through the 2.5 million-visitor threshold was a significant accomplishment for Maui’s tourism industry, especially after it battled back from setbacks, such as the recession and the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001.

And, she pointed out, that visitor spending topped $4.36 billion for Maui County in 2015. Maui island alone saw spending climb 5.9 percent to almost $4.29 billion, another record.

Maui’s visitor spending topped $4 billion for the first time in 2014.

Maui’s success has been a testament to the island’s popularity, which has fed demand and increasing numbers of airline seats to fly here, she said.

“People love Maui because of choices in accommodations, cuisine, activities and events,” she said.

Maui tourism marketers have been strategic about supporting wintertime events like the Maui Invitational college basketball tournament in Lahaina in November and the annual Tournament of Champions PGA event at Kapalua in January, she said.

“When you’re on the Mainland in snow and see on TV the whales jump off of Kapalua’s golf course, then you want to come to Maui,” Vencl said. “We’re just fortunate that we have that to offer. . . . We get a lot of wonderful, wonderful TV.”

Maui has been successful in getting repeat visitors because of the high quality of its visitor accommodations and amenities, as well as iconic places like Haleakala and Iao Valley, while also making in-roads with first-time visitors because the Maui name is a highly recognizable brand in major U.S. markets, she said.

Visitor spending has been driven by steady rising consumer confidence since 2008, she said, as well as by the disposable retirement income of the baby boomer generation.

“Boomers like to travel,” she said, including herself in the generation born after World War II. “We are retiring. We are traveling, and we are spending money, and what more beautiful place to do that than Maui?”

Yet, Vencl said, Maui’s tourism industry can’t afford to be complacent. The rocky start of the stock market this year could shake consumer confidence and threaten the retirement nest eggs of baby boomers, she said.

And, there’s a lot of visitor destination competitors around the world eager to seize Maui’s share of the market, she said.

“If you don’t keep the name of Maui out there in front of people, someone else will be there,” she said. “They’ll be listening to someone else.”

And many of those other destinations will be less expensive and easier to get to, she said.

“It’s not all honey on the horizon,” Vencl said.

Statewide, visitor arrivals by air increased 4.3 percent to 8.5 million, and Oahu also set an annual record for arrivals last year with 5.3 million, a 2.8 percent increase over 2014.

Overall visitor spending in the state grew 2.3 percent to $15.16 billion in 2015.

For visitor-stats aficionados, here’s some Maui County numbers (all for the full year of 2015, compared with 2014):

* Maui County arrivals were up 4.8 percent to 2,566,144.

* Maui-only visitors were up 7.5 percent to 1,596,668.

* Molokai visitors were up 7.6 percent to 64,156.

* Lanai visitors were down 14.5 percent to 58,105, though the island’s visitor accommodations were closed much of the year for renovations.

* Maui’s per-person-per-day spending went up 1.5 percent to $206.90.

* Molokai’s per-person daily spending dropped 16.7 percent to $100.70.

* Lanai’s per-person daily spending fell 15.1 percent to $270.90. (Lanai retained the distinction of having the highest amount of spending in the category, followed by Maui island.)

* Maui’s per-person-per-trip spending rose 1 percent to $1,697.20.

* Molokai’s per-person-per-trip spending went down 20.3 percent to $447.

* Lanai’s per-person-per-trip spending nosedived 28.4 percent to $757.70. (It had been $1,058.80 in 2014.)

* For domestic visitors by air, Maui County’s arrivals were up 5.2 percent to 2,109,052.

* For international visitors, the county’s arrivals rose 2.7 percent to 457,091.

* For Maui County’s core U.S. West Coast market, arrivals went up 7.7 percent to 1,266,728.

* For U.S. East Coast visitors, county arrivals increased 3.3 percent to 675,646.

* For Canadian visitors, county arrivals fell 4.1 percent to 263,456.

* For Japanese visitors, county arrivals inched up 0.9 percent to 61,293.

Meanwhile, airlines helped meet increasing demand for Maui vacations in 2015 by increasing nonstop passenger seats to Kahului Airport by 14.7 percent to 2,265,402. Kona Airport’s nonstop seats grew 17.8 percent to 808,981. Honolulu International Airport saw a 2.7 percent increase to 8.1 million. Hilo International Airport’s seats fell 3.3 percent to 44,450, and Lihue’s went up 3.3 percent to 675,512.

Statewide, nonstop passenger seats to Hawaii rose 5.8 percent to 11.9 million.

* Brian Perry can be reached at