updated 3/30/2011 11:13:59 AM ET 2011-03-30T15:13:59

The number of Hawaii visitors jumped 11.8 percent last month compared to the year before, but tourism officials responding to the data released Tuesday said they're girding themselves for a drop-off as travelers from Japan increasingly stay home in the wake of this month's devastating earthquake and tsunamis.

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Hawaii Tourism Authority President Mike McCartney said the agency would spend more than $3 million targeting travelers from other major markets to offset a shortfall in Japanese visitors.

Story: Hawaii worries about Japan — and its tourists

The agency plans to improve air access and maintain demand from China, Korea, Australia and New Zealand, McCartney said in a statement. The HTA also intends to work with its partners in Japan to determine the best way to "help stabilize the Japanese market," he said.

"Our first priority is to offer our support and stand in unity with the people of Japan," McCartney said, pointing to disaster relief fundraising efforts the agency is helping organize. "We also realize that our community is very interested in what can be done to respond to the anticipated decline in visitors from Japan and other markets due to the disaster."

McCartney's comments come one day after Japan Airlines announced it would temporarily cut to 14 from 21 the number of flights it runs from Tokyo's Narita airport to Honolulu each week. The airline said it was acting in response to a decline in travelers in the aftermath of the disasters.

Until the March 11 earthquake and tsunamis, Hawaii's tourism industry was continuing to rebound from a decline in visitors triggered by the 2008 financial crisis. A surge in Japanese visitors taking advantage of the strong yen — which makes products and services priced in dollars cheaper — was a key factor in the recovery.

The tourism authority said visitor spending surged by 18.7 percent to $1.03 billion in February. The agency said this was especially significant because the total exceeded the amount travelers spent in Hawaii during February 2007 — the year visitor spending in the islands hit an all-time high.

The number of travelers from Canada jumped 19.7 percent and those from the U.S. West climbed 10.9 percent. Japanese travelers grew by 8.2 percent.

Among the islands, the Big Island saw the largest growth with 14 percent more travelers visiting. Oahu followed with 11.7 percent, Kauai with 10.1 percent and Maui with 8.2 percent.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: Japanese travelers cancel trips to Hawaii

  1. Closed captioning of: Japanese travelers cancel trips to Hawaii

    >> in japan, there's another victim of the quake. it is the economy of hawaii . it's taking a big hit . jane wells has that part of the story.

    >> reporter: earlier this month, the biggest worry at hawaii 's biggest industry was the impact of oil on airfares. now they may have a bigger worry. it's a cloudy day on waikiki, which could also describe hawaii 's economy.

    >> the recession hit pretty hard.

    >> tourism is their number one industry, worth more than $211 billion last year down from nearly $14 billion four years ago. in the last year, tourism started to turn a corner. but things are looking up. they had their best january in years here in hawaii . room occupancy on waikiki is well over 90% but room rates are down 20% from the peak four years ago. now everything could change. while some resorts suffered minor damage from the tsunami, the real pain is on the horizon. japan is their second largest market behind the mainland. japanese spent nearly $2 billion here last year.

    >> it's a deeper relationship than juct? coming here for business. it's a much deeper one that they come here to rejuvenate.

    >> since the quake, thousands of japanese have canceled reservations. the impact will be terrible. leaving hawaii looking elsewhere for growth. the popularity of the new hawaii 50 is helping to lure tour theists. and mexico's troubles are helping hawaii .

    >> its an a thursday night in march. do you have any rooms available?

    >> we probably have a couple 37 but everybody is in the high 90s. we're pretty much booked.

    >> outrigger saying it hasn't seen mass cancellations but is expecting is significant short-term impact. the entire industry is now going after the chinese market. only one in ten chinese tourists to the u.s. goes to hawaii .

Photos: Hawaiian paradise

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  1. Waimea Canyon, Kauai

    Kalalau Valley, on Kauai's west side, is more than 3,000 feet deep and provides stunning panoramic views. Waimea is nicknamed "The Grand Canyon of the Pacific." (John Borthwick / Lonely Planet) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Honolulu, Hawaii

    Men row their Hawaiian outrigger canoe towards Waikiki beach, with Diamond Head in the background. Outrigger canoes are now used for recreation purposes and to ride the waves, but in times past they were the main means of transportation between the Hawaiian Islands. (Mike Nelson / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. The tranquil waters of Oahu

    Hanauma Bay is one of the finest stretches of beach in the world. (Eric L Wheater / Lonely Planet) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Surfer's paradise

    Australian Luke Egan competes on Oahu's North Shore, one of the best places in Hawaii to ride the big waves. (AFP) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Water colors

    A school of manini fish pass over a coral reef at Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve in Honolulu, Hawaii. (Donald Miralle / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Wailua Falls

    The beautiful 83-foot tiered Wailua Falls is an easily accessible, must-see waterfall on the island of Kauai. Wailua Falls was first made famous when it was featured in the television show, "Fantasy Island." (James Randklev / Corbis) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Emerald peaks

    The iconic, towering emerald peaks of the 1,200-foot Iao Needle, stand out in Maui's Iao Valley State Park. (Adina Tovy Amsel / Lonely Planet) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Historic reminder

    The USS Arizona Memorial in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, marks the resting place of many of the battleship's 1,177 crew members who lost their lives during the Attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941 by the Japanese. The memorial is the "ground zero" of World War II. (Kevin Winter / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Aloha!

    Hula dancers welcome the sailing crew of a Hokule'a, a canoe, into Kailua Bay. (Ronen Zilberman / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. The heart of Hawaii

    The sun sets on Honolulu, Oahu's capital and Hawaii's largest, most populous city. (Robert Y. Ono / Corbis) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Polynesian heat

    Brandon OFueo Maneafaiga, 23, of Waianae, Hawaii balances two flaming knifes during the 13th Annual World Fireknife Championship at the Polynesian Cultural Centre in Laie, Hawaii. (Lucy Pemoni / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Explosive attraction

    People watch from a viewing area as an explosion takes place on Kilauea, one of the world's most active volcanoes, in Pahoa, Hawaii. Legend says the volcano goddess Pele dug fire pits as she traveled from island to island looking for a home with her brothers and sisters. She finally settled at Kilauea's summit, where she lives at Halemaumau crater. (Leigh Hilbert / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Forces of nature

    The Dragon's Teeth are bizarre lava formations eroded by wind and salt spray at Makalua-puna Point. (Karl Lehmann / Lonely Planet) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Heaven on Earth

    Astronomy observatories are seen on the peak of the snow-covered, Mauna Kea mountain near Hilo, Hawaii. Mauna Kea is a dormant volcano. (Tim Wright / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. On the way to Sainthood

    Tourists walk through a cemetery past the grave, left, of Father Damien at Kalawao, Hawaii. After cancer patient Audrey Toguchi prayed to Father Damien, known for helping leprosy patients in Hawaii, to help her, and her cancer went away, Pope Benedict XVI approved the case in July 2008 as Damien's second miracle, opening the way for the 19th century Belgian priest to be declared a saint. (Eric Risberg / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. Cool colors

    Rainbow eucalyptus (Mindanao Gum) trees grow in Keanae, Maui. Once a year, these magnificent trees shed their bark and take on the colors of the rainbow. (James Randklev / Corbis) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. Magic Sands

    An aerial view of La'aloa Beach Park or Magic Sands beach in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii. The beach is called Magic Sands because when rough surf hits, all of the sand is emptied off the beach and temporarily moved out to sea. (Brian Powers / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
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