Hawaii tourism officials expect slower growth for state's biggest industry

Hawaii tourism officials said Thursday they were tempering their expectations, but they still anticipate continued growth for the state's biggest industry.

The Hawaii Tourism Authority expects 8.2 million visitors to come to the islands this year, followed by 8.4 million next year, said David Uchiyama, the state agency's vice president for brand management.

Both figures would be records, but they're lower than initial targets.

The industry hasn't managed to maintain the same brisk growth trend marked in recent years as economy emerged from recession, Uchiyama said.

Still, growing numbers of travelers from markets like Australia, China and South Korea should help fuel continued expansion.

"The year has not turned out as we had hoped in terms of continuing the same growth trend," Uchiyama told representatives from hotels and travel agencies at an industry conference in Honolulu. "But the experience in recent years is that we're going to be able to continue this with the dynamic diversification that we've found in international markets."

Uchiyama expressed modest optimism about travel from the mainland. He noted Delta is adding seats to cities like Seattle, Los Angeles and starting a seasonal flight between Honolulu and New York that will operate during the winter holiday period. Hawaiian Airlines, meanwhile, is diverting planes used on discontinued international routes to serve travelers from the mainland, he said.

The agency expects spending by visitors to climb 2.8 percent to $15.1 billion next year.

Travelers from Japan, the biggest source of international visitors to Hawaii, are expected to climb 1.3 percent to 1.6 million.

China, one the state's fastest-growing travel markets, is expected to send 11.4 percent more visitors for a total of 170,000. Airlines have increased air service to Honolulu from Beijing but demand hasn't kept up with the inventory, so this growth rate is less than expected previously, Uchiyama said.

Uchiyama cautioned industry representatives not to price their products too high because this practice will keep tourists away and cause airlines to reduce seats to the islands. "We need to price accordingly so going forward we have a more sustainable flow of business into the state," he said.