WAIKAPU - The current downturn in the visitor industry will end and 2010 will be a stabilizing year, members of the Maui Chamber of Commerce were told Monday morning. Speakers predicted a full-scale recovery should be in progress by 2011.
In the first of its new Breakfast Before Hours meetings, chamber members were addressed by Terryl Vencl, executive director of the Maui Visitors Bureau, and Gregg Nelson, chairman of the board of the Maui Hotel and Lodging Association. The visitor industry update was sponsored by First Hawaiian Bank.
Nelson, who is general manager of the Napili Kai Resort, reminded the audience that there are always highs and lows in tourism.
"We have been through downturns in the past, and we have recovered," Nelson told the assembly. "This is a lengthy one, but we need to remember we lag behind the U.S. Mainland by six months to a year. Taking a vacation is way down on people's list of things to do right now. They are worried about homes and jobs. It will be a while before we see signs of recovery."
He also said that while he supports attempts to diversify Hawaii's economy, tourism is the economic engine of the state.
"We need to diversify, but we need to help tourism stay strong."
The MHLA chairman said that managing a resort in this prolonged recession has caused him to cut payroll and watch supplies closely. He cautioned the audience, though, not to cut their advertising and marketing budgets.
"That is your lifeline," Nelson said, "it is the last thing you want to reduce."
Nelson reminded the audience that the Maui Visitors Bureau is the visitor industry's marketing core.
"We can't afford to see its budget cut and all business people need to support it. This year is critical. With the expected budget shortfall, there will be attempts to cut it. Speak up."
Vencl echoed a lot of Nelson's sentiments, but told the audience there are still bright spots in Maui's visitor industry right now.
The MVB executive director reminded everyone that Conde Nast Traveler magazine readers have voted Maui the Best Pacific Island 19 years in a row and Best Island in the World 15 of the last 16 years. Maui just received both of those awards again last month.
A recently completed survey by Web site vacation.com ranked Maui No. 1 as the place to have a dream vacation.
Vencl also reminded the audience that the first quarter of 2008 was the best three months in the history of Hawaii tourism. She said that level of occupancy and spending could not be sustained.
Other positive points made by Vencl included that of the top five vacation spots in the United States, Maui has the highest average daily room rate. It is second only to New York in revenue per available room. She also pointed out that Alaska Airlines and Air Canada have added direct flights to Maui and that Alaska will add more from the Bay Area after the start of the year.
Vencl said a full-blown recovery in the visitor industry will not occur until consumer confidence is restored on the Mainland. She told the audience that 2010 will be a year of stabilization in the industry and that 2011 should show a recovery.
In the meantime, though, Vencl said Maui needs to use this period to keep pushing, improve its marketing skill and "keep working on improving our product and improving the visitor's experience. Have patience, it will come back."
"Let's use this down time to revitalize our biggest asset, the spirit of aloha."