WAILUKU - Maui County saw a more than 6 percent increase in visitors in March and in the first quarter of this year, but Maui, Molokai and Lanai trailed other islands in visitor arrivals while keeping pace with or leading other areas in tourist spending, according to statistics released Thursday by the Hawai'i Tourism Authority.
Statewide, visitor arrivals increased 12.9 percent to 714,973 in March and 8.8 percent to 1.98 million in the first quarter. All the figures are compared with the same period last year.
In March, Maui County visitor arrivals grew 6.4 percent to 218,856, while in the first quarter of the year the county's visitor numbers went up 6.2 percent to 599,505. Maui island numbers rose 6.7 percent in March to 215,047 while its number of visitors in the first quarter went up 6.5 percent to 587,579.
Molokai and Lanai visitor totals are low, and percentage figures can be exaggerated because of the small sample size. Molokai reported 43.2 percent fewer visitors in March, down to 4,302; and the island had 17.5 percent fewer visitors in the first quarter, a fall to 13,954. Lanai visitor numbers fell 27.8 percent in March to 6,836, and for the first quarter the island saw 9.4 percent fewer visitors, down to 19,339.
By a percentage basis, other islands fared better in March and the first quarter. Oahu's visitor arrivals grew 14.4 percent to 410,398 in March and went up 9.4 percent to nearly 1.2 million in the first quarter. Kauai's visitor totals jumped 15.5 percent to 94,733 for the month and went up 10.9 percent to 260,394 in the first quarter. The Big Island saw 12.9 percent more visitors in March, up to 134,474, and it had 8.2 percent more visitors in the first quarter, rising to 380,182.
In expenditures, Maui island led the state, with its visitors spending 24.6 percent more in March than in March 2011, to $352.9 million, and 15.7 percent more in the first quarter, up to more than $1 billion. Oahu visitors shelled out 19.6 percent more in March, up to $552.7 million, and 15.3 percent more in the first quarter, to $1.7 billion. Visitor spending fell on both Molokai and Lanai.
In March, a Maui visitor spent an average of $201 per day, second only to Lanai, where a visitor spent $300. The lowest daily spending figure was on Molokai, where a visitor spent nearly $64.
Statewide, the average daily spending figure was $177 for March. Overall, statewide
visitor spending rose 18.9 percent to nearly $1.2 billion in March, and it was up 13.7 percent to $3.6 billion in the first quarter.
The Hawai'i Tourism Authority said March was the 22nd consecutive month that visitor spending has grown in the state.
Authority President and Chief Executive Officer Mike McCartney said more airline seats to Hawaii led to more arrivals and spending.
"The distribution of tourism across our state is important for the sustainability of our visitor industry," he said. "And there continues to be tremendous growth potential for the Neighbor Islands, reflected by lower hotel occupancy, which we will continue to support through our marketing partners and island chapters."
McCartney said tourism officials expect visitor arrival numbers to flatten from the Mainland in April as the state moves into its slow "shoulder" months.
"While May is typically a slower month for travel to the Hawaiian Islands, our support of festivals and events like Mele Mei draws visitors during this shoulder periods," he said.
He added that the authority is looking forward to meetings, conventions and incentive travelers, including the arrival of 15,000 attendees at the Hawai'i Convention Center for the American Association of Orthodontists' convention in May.
Also, tourism officials are expecting more visitors to come to the islands when new flights begin in the summer from New York; Washington, D.C.; Fresno, Calif.; and Las Vegas, McCartney said.
Statewide, travel from South Korea jumped 37.5 percent in the first quarter to 31,295 and from China surged 24.3 percent to 23,030 - though there were still fewer visitors from both countries than from Hawaii's more established international markets like Japan with 685,824 visitors in March and Canada with 959,671.
* Brian Perry can be reached at email@example.com.