Tourism leaders rejoiced Thursday at the news that August visitor arrivals statewide were no worse than the totals in August 2008 - 608,420 last month, or only 0.3 percent more than the 606,336 for the month a year ago.
"After 17 months of declining arrivals, we are pleased to see that visitor arrivals overall have held steady for the past two months and that arrivals from our main market, U.S. West, have shown an increase for four consecutive months," said Mike McCartney, president of the Hawaii Tourism Authority.
Recent Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau marketing efforts in San Francisco and Los Angeles have helped with the increases, he said.
Maui County did not quite match the August 2008 levels, which were already low thanks to the failure three months earlier of major air links ATA and Aloha, but the 3.5 percent drop to a total of 180,161 visitors was a big improvement over earlier this year.
For the first eight months, visits to Maui County are down 12 percent to 1,338,343.
Oahu continues to do relatively better, thanks in part to Japanese tourism.
In a report released today, the University of Hawaii Economic Research Organization said that after getting over some swine flu jitters, it looks as if Japanese visits - although lower than last year's - will continue to show some resilience.
In August, Oahu welcomed 385,263 visitors, a gain of 1.6 percent. Of those, 91,171 were from Japan and were visiting only Oahu.
By contrast, Maui County got a mere 1,468 exclusive Japanese tourists, and only 5,548 overall.
Because the Neighbor Islands are not enjoying the comparatively strong Japanese business, they are lagging far behind Oahu.
Kauai had 86,692 visitors in August, down 5.2 percent, and has had 644,545 this year, down 13.1 percent.
The Big Island had 109,003 in August, down 8 percent, and has had 845,932 this year, down 10.6 percent.
Thus, Maui, which had been showing bigger losses than any other county for most of the year, has begun to reassert a little of its accustomed dominance over the other Neighbor Islands.
But at the cost of drastic price cutting.
Per-person per-day spending on Maui was down 13.7 percent to $156.60.
Molokai was down 32.8 percent to $109.60, and Lanai was down 21.8 percent to $234.40.
That represented a deficit of more than $30 million in monthly visitor spending compared with August 2008.
State Tourism Liaison Marsha Wienert already had cautioned, on her visit to Maui last week, that annual comparisons will start showing better-looking percentages because the slump is now well into its second year, so comparisons are being made to already-poor numbers.
"Decreased visitor spending, a byproduct of aggressive pricing, is affecting all sectors of our industry and the overall economy," she said of the August numbers.
A measure of how drastic the price cutting has been is that Oahu per-person per-day spending was higher than Maui's in August. Oahu spending reached $157.20, a decrease of 14.3 percent compared with the year before.
It is no longer true, but it used to be the case that Maui's much-higher room rents boosted per-person per-day spending here.
According to tracking over the years by Smith Travel Research for Hospitality Advisors, which breaks down hotels by price category, a Maui "luxury" room usually has been priced around $100 higher than a Waikiki "luxury" room.
Statewide, per-person per-day spending is down from $177 to $159 this year.
Expenditures by air visitors tallied $836.1 million - a 13.9 percent, or about a $135 million, decrease from August of last year.
* The Associated Press contributed to this report. Harry Eagar can be reached at email@example.com.