HONOLULU — 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.
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