Maui island welcomed 173,644 visitors in January, 9.2 percent more than the same month a year before. Molokai reported 4,791 visitors, an 8.2 percent increase; and Lanai took in 5,787, up 17.5 percent.
The numbers were more evidence that the state visitor industry is continuing its climb back from the deep recession of 2009. The Hawaii Tourism Authority, which released the numbers Thursday, said total spending was up 19.8 percent to nearly $1.2 billion.
The hike in visitor spending was attributed in part to the NFL's Pro Bowl and hundreds of thousands of winter-weary travelers. The Pro Bowl, which returned to Honolulu after spending a year in Miami, was responsible for bringing 17,000 visitors to Hawaii, according to the state.
Spokane, Wash., resident Emily Bendickson, 8, soars among the palm trees Thursday afternoon while on the Xtreme Trampoline at Maui Golf & Sports Park in Maalaea. Maui island had 9.2 percent more visitors in January who came to the island in the same month last year, according to statistics released by the Hawaii Tourism Authority.
The Maui News / AMANDA COWAN photo
The tourism authority said visitor spending increased by $194.8 million in January, the ninth straight month of a double-digit increase.
The spending increase outpaced the statewide head count increase, which was 12.2 percent to 597,487. Visitor-days were up slightly more, by 10.3 percent on Maui island to 1.65 million. The average visitor spent nine and a half days on Maui, seven days on Molokai, four days on Lanai and eight days on Oahu.
Visitor spending and numbers have increased month by month since March.
Per person per day spending was up 7.5 percent to $183 statewide and up 9.8 percent on Maui to $196.
Lanai visitors spend the most, $341 a day, and stay the shortest time.
Maui's gain in head count was higher than on Kauai, 6.6 percent. But it was just shy of the Big Island, 9.5 percent, and smaller than Oahu, 12.9 percent.
But for domestic traffic, Maui and Oahu were close up 11.7 percent and 12 percent, respectively. That matches with the rise in Maui's prime catchment area, the western states, where numbers grew by 12 percent statewide.
Oahu's bigger overall gain was attributable to a surge in international visitors, up 14.2 percent to 159,298 on that island. For every three international visitors, Oahu had four American tourists, or 200,549.
The imbalance was much more marked on Maui, which had 31,664 international visitors (down 0.7 percent) but 141,980 American visitors (up 11.7 percent).
Lanai had 5,787 visitors, 908 from foreign countries, a gain of 17.5 percent. Molokai had 4,791 visitors, 634 from foreign countries, a gain of 8.2 percent.
The tourism authority cautions that, because of small sampling sizes, the statistics for Molokai and Lanai, only apparently accurate to within a single person, are less certain than for the islands with larger numbers of visitors.
The statistics for visitor arrivals and spending are welcome news to tourism-dependent Hawaii, which got clobbered financially by the travel slowdown caused by the recession.
"The sustained momentum is encouraging, but there continues to be many factors that can disrupt recovery of Hawaii's tourism economy," said Mike McCartney, president and chief executive officer of the state tourism agency. "Among the most critical are labor negotiations and the increase in fuel prices which will have a direct impact on airfares and discretionary spending."
Major airlines have already announced airfare hikes on most domestic flights. Airlines are trying to pass along their cost for jet fuel, which is rising with the surge in oil prices. Oil hit $100 a barrel on Wednesday and settled around $97 on Thursday.
But demand for Hawaii has been showing strength as the recovery in tourism continues, forcing several airlines to increase air seat capacity.
Japan Airlines switched to a larger aircraft to keep up with travel demand to Hawaii and Hawaiian Airlines added additional flights out of Osaka, McCartney said.
Domestically, United Airlines announced the start of direct service to Hilo from Los Angeles and San Francisco, and Alaska Airlines added new daily service from Oakland and San Jose to Maui.
"HTA remains committed to implementing our brand management efforts and further building upon recent gains to provide jobs, create new opportunities and help bolster the state's economic recovery," McCartney said.
* The Associated Press contributed to this report. Harry Eagar can be reached at email@example.com.