Maui County visitor traffic in March plunged 25.8 percent from the same month a year ago, to 168,546, according to the Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism.
Statewide visitor arrivals also dropped, but not as steeply, going down by 16.6 percent to 555,902. The average length of stay was stable at about nine days, but tourists spent nearly 10 percent less. The declines have hit the state's No. 1 industry hard, resulting in everything from mass layoffs to drastic reductions in tax collections.
For the first quarter of 2009, arrivals fell 14 percent from nearly 1.9 million to 1.6 million.
The spurt in Canadian business, which had bucked the downward trend since the last months of 2008, appears over. Canadian visits to the islands dropped 3.8 percent in March. Japanese visits were up by 0.6 percent, the first increase in Japanese tourism since May 2008.
''March visitor statistics continue to reflect the impact global economic conditions are having on our economy,'' state tourism liaison Marsha Wienert said in a statement.
She said another factor for the decline was that Easter and spring break week for students, which were both in March last year, shifted to April this year.
She added that a gain in Japanese business is encouraging. Japanese honeymooning is up 23 percent this year, and Japanese visits to marry were up 11 percent in March.
For the first quarter, Maui island arrivals are down 22.2 percent to 465,937, and visitor days are down 17.4 percent to 4 million. Only 76,455 of those visitors were from overseas.
Maui's decline tracks very closely with the drop from its biggest catchment area, the West Coast, where overall tourism to the islands is down 22 percent. California visitors dropped by 36 percent.
Molokai has seen 74,989 visitors this year, down 30 percent from the previous year. Lanai has had 60,208, down 25.9 percent.
For the first quarter, visits are down 13.5 percent to 962,232 on Oahu; down 20.6 percent to 310,987 on the Big Island; and down 23.6 percent to 215,784 on Kauai.
In another indication that Maui, while it enjoyed disproportionate success in the boom year of 2007, is suffering disproportionate erosion now, the total of visits to the other Neighbor Islands, about 525,000, is well over Maui's total.
For many years, at least since Hurricane Iniki rewrote the tourism map in 1992, Maui almost always got as many tourists as Kauai and Hawaii counties combined.
The islands, in particular Maui, Kauai and the Big Island, were hurt by the loss of the Pride of Aloha, which was taken out of Hawaii's interisland market by Norwegian Cruise Lines in May 2008.
More than a third of the decline in arrivals on the Big Island and Kauai can be attributed to fewer cruise ship passengers.
Tourism officials fear that the recent swine flu outbreak could only exacerbate Hawaii's tourism woes, even though no cases have been reported in the islands.
* The Associated Press contributed to this report. Harry Eagar can be reached at email@example.com.