Hawaii’s $14 billion tourism industry back to pre-recession levels

September 27, 2013
Waikiki Beach in Honolulu, Hawaii, is shown in an undated photo. In the background is Diamond Head, the rim of an extinct volcanic crater. (AP Photo/Ronen Zilberman)
Waikiki Beach in Honolulu, Hawaii (AP Photo/Ronen Zilberman)

Almost 3.4 million Americans have traveled to Hawaii this year, putting the Aloha State’s tourism industry on pace for a record-setting year, according to its tourism authority.

Tourism is the largest single contributor to the state’s gross domestic product, representing about 21 percent of its entire economy. Visitors spent more than $14 billion in Hawaii in 2012, according to the Hawaii Tourism Authority’s annual report.

More than 1.2 million Californians have visited Hawaii so far this year, along with 320,000 Washington State residents. All told, visitors from the West Coast spent $4.7 billion during their trips to Hawaii in 2012, more than visitors from any other region.

But East Coast markets are becoming an increasingly large source of tourism dollars. Hawaii has seen many more New Yorkers and New Jersey visitors this year; tourism from mid-Atlantic states is up more than 10 percent over last year.

Oahu, home of Honolulu, gets the majority of tourism dollars, at more than $7.7 billion. Visitors spent about $3.5 billion on Maui, and just $28 million on tiny Molokai.

Total spending by island:

But on a per-person basis, Hawaii would love to see more Chinese and Japanese visitors. Tourists from China spent an average of $396 per day during their visits, while Japanese tourists spent $310 per day in 2012, the statistics show. By contrast, visitors from the West Coast spent just $152 per day, on average. Japanese visitors alone accounted for $2.5 billion in spending in 2012 — making up 3.7 percent of the state’s entire $67 billion gross domestic product.

And the airline industry is responding to increasing demand from Asia. The number of airline seats traveling from Japan increased by 14 percent in 2012, and seats from China, South Korea and the rest of Asia grew by a whopping 42 percent. Growth from the West Coast of the United States, which still accounts for the bulk of arriving flights, was a much more modest 3.4 percent, to 6.1 million seats. About 22 percent of all airline seats headed to Hawaii came from Los Angeles, the statistics show.

Airline seats to Hawaii (Source: Hawaii Tourism Authority's 2012 Annual Visitor Research Report)
Airline seats to Hawaii (Source: Hawaii Tourism Authority’s 2012 Annual Visitor Research Report)
Airline seats to Hawaii (Source: Hawaii Tourism Authority's 2012 Annual Visitor Research Report)
Airline seats to Hawaii (Source: Hawaii Tourism Authority’s 2012 Annual Visitor Research Report)

Honeymooners, not surprisingly, make up a huge portion of visitors to Hawaii. The Tourism Authority estimated that 583,000 newly-weds visited the islands in 2012 and stayed for an average of more than a week. Visitors who came with children under the age of 18 stayed for an average of 8.8 days.

Hawaii’s tourism industry got hit hard by the great recession, as total visits from the U.S. plummeted during 2008 and 2009. But the number of total visitors last year, 7.8 million, set an all-time record, the Tourism Authority reported.

Visitors to Hawaii by year (Source: Hawaii Tourism Authority's 2012 Annual Visitor Research Report)
Visitors to Hawaii by year (Source: Hawaii Tourism Authority’s 2012 Annual Visitor Research Report)
Reid Wilson covers state politics and policy for the Washington Post's GovBeat blog. He's a former editor in chief of The Hotline, the premier tip sheet on campaigns and elections, and he's a complete political junkie.
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