Ho-hum, another record year for Maui tourism

More-than-ever visitor arrivals, spending and days logged in 2017

Golf fans walk down the Kapalua Plantation Course’s 15th fairway while following Justin Thomas to his win of the PGA Tournament of Champions in January 2017. The event helped kick off a record year for visitors to the island. -- The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

For Maui County, 2017 was another record-setting year for tourism with no dark clouds looming on the horizon to dampen the success of the county’s top industry, according to Hawai’i Tourism Authority statistics and visitor industry officials.

Records set in 2017 included visitor arrivals, visitor expenditures and total visitor days — all built upon previous record-setting years, according to the authority’s Tourism Research Division.

Visitor spending hit a record $4.8 billion in 2017, the sixth consecutive record-setting year. The total was 5.2 percent more than 2016. In December alone, visitor expenditures of $483 million were 16.1 percent higher than the previous December.

Visitor arrivals by air totaled 2,742,108, a third straight record year. This was a 4.1 percent increase over 2016’s 2,634,237. December arrivals jumped 8 percent to 258,422.

Total visitor days logged hit record levels in 2017 for the sixth straight year, up 2.9 percent.

Xterra athletes hit the water in Kapalua at the start of the sport’s World Championship in October. Such events helped draw record numbers of visitors to Maui County last year, and visitor spending, which has risen since the Great Recession hit the islands in 2008, was forecast to continue rising. -- The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

Sherry Duong, executive director of the Maui Visitors and Convention Bureau, was bullish on the future of Maui County tourism and pointed to increased air seats to Maui from target markets as a factor in the continued growth of the industry.

The tourism report, released Thursday, showed a 1.2 percent increase in nonstop flights to Kahului Airport in 2017. These increases give visitors more options to reach Maui, Duong said.

Visitor spending, which has been on the rise since the Great Recession rocked the industry in 2008, should continue strong as well, she said.

“With upcoming hotel renovations, new activities, enhanced island experiences and increased airlift, we are anticipating that our visitor spending will sustain its current upward track,” Duong said.

She also noted that “December has traditionally been a peak month for Maui due to elevated holiday traffic.” This December was particularly hot with hefty hikes in arrivals and expenditures and a 9.1 percent increase in per-person-per-day spending to $215.80 and a 6.5 percent hike in total visitor days.

Arrivals from all of Maui County’s top markets logged steady increases in 2017. Visitors by air from Maui County’s No. 1 market, the West Coast, were up 3.5 percent compared to 2016. Increases also were logged from the East Coast, up 6.5 percent; Canada, up 8.1 percent; and Japan, up 5.9 percent.

The number of visitors staying on Maui island one day or less jumped 8.8 percent in 2017, compared to the previous year.

Cruise ship passenger visits to Maui County, 237,112, also grew, up 9.6 percent from 2016.

On Lanai, tourist arrivals by air for 2017 grew 1.9 percent to 64,242, but spending fell 9 percent to $83.4 million.

Molokai’s data was flipped, with visitor arrivals down 1.8 percent to 57,888, but spending up 4.6 percent to $34.4 million.

About half of the visitors to Lanai and Molokai spent one day or less on the island, the data show.

Maui County’s hot visitor market in 2017 mirrored the state, which logged records in visitor spending ($16.78 billion), generated tax revenue ($1.96 billion), arrivals (9.38 million), air seats (12.23 million) and jobs supported (204,000), the HTA said.

Hawaii breached the 9 million visitor mark in 2017 with 9,382,986 visitors, a 5 percent increase over the record-setting 8,934,277 in 2016. Visitor spending rose 6.2 percent statewide in 2017.

“What tourism generated for Hawaii in 2017, highlighted by record totals in five major categories that convey the industry’s importance to residents and the state’s economy, is rewarding and should not be taken for granted,” said George Szigeti, HTA president and chief executive officer.

“We are hopeful of sustaining tourism’s momentum in 2018 for the benefit of Hawaii’s families and the state’s economy,” he said. “Our message to global travelers continues to be that Hawaii is the safest, cleanest and most welcoming destination in the world.”

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

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