Familiar faces have not only returned, but those from which they came are also increasing
The first wave of returning US tourists to arrive on a route between airports in the western United States and Hawaii has been hailed as “tremendous” by the state’s tourism and travel agencies.
The Hawaiian State Tourist Bureau has reported that the first group of US holidaymakers en route from San Diego to Honolulu this week made up 70% of the 500 tourists that set off from San Diego’s Lindbergh Field on December 31.
The group included two families with three-to-four year-olds and their families, along with a 12-member crew of Norwegian Cruise Line’s 787 Dream liner.
But the final result of the cruise line’s renewed investment in its six-year-old route is reflected in the importance of a newer itinerary as well as the return of the original visitors.
The Sea Lord cruise ship with about 400 passengers in Honolulu, Hawaii. Photograph: Kevin Casey/Getty Images
According to a follow-up statement, the return of US holidaymakers is a good early sign and has led to an increase in the number of visitors from the US “overall” who are already within 50 miles of the Hawaiian Islands.
“The continued healthy flights and arrivals indicate that the Hawaii economy remains stronger than expected,” the statement said.
“Over 50% of the 500 cruise ship passengers now return on cruise ships with their families.
“As North American cruise ship visitation continues to increase, the Hawaii visitor industry is seeing a positive impact from newer cruise ships with leisure itineraries featuring travel to Hawaii.”
But even while the tourism and travel economy continues to be strong, there are concerns that a lag in response time – which led to the visit to land islands being delayed for up to 24 hours – has the potential to put extra pressure on the infrastructure.
“Are we ready to handle the influx of visitors that come? Absolutely not,” said Peter Oshiro, president of the Mount & Area Activity Park Association, an organisation providing activities such as cycling, hiking and kayaking.
“But I would also say that if [more] South Korean tourists aren’t already on the island, that’s good. We’ve still got room for more if they come.”
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A spokesperson for the Hawaiian Hotel Association said the number of new hotel rooms approved for construction would mean Hawaii could accommodate more tourists than ever before.
“When you’re a 24-hour island, you don’t necessarily need every town to be ready and be at capacity,” the spokesperson said.
“It doesn’t mean that there won’t be a problem in the long term; I don’t think that’s true.”
According to the Havelock Bay Visitor and Convention Bureau, US holidaymakers are the most valuable group of visitors to the five Big Island main islands.
From a recent average of 73,000 visitors per day, the bureau expected a double boost to visitor spending by the return of the North American contingent.
The number of cruise passengers departing San Diego is due to increase by 21% in 2016, and cruise ship passenger numbers are up more than 15% in the last year.
“Uprooting the [Sea Lord] even once was a huge undertaking but their return has been tremendous,” said Edward Perreaux, a local resident and director of tourism at the National Park Service.