HONOLULU, Hawaii - State tourism officials aim to lure 8.4 million travellers to the islands this year, instead of the 8.7 million targeted earlier, David Uchiyama, the Hawaii Tourism Authority vice-president, said Wednesday.
The less ambitious goal comes after several months of slowing growth in the state's biggest industry, but it's still 2.5 per cent higher than the record number of visitors who came to Hawaii last year.
Last week the agency released data showing visitors spent 5 per cent less in January than the same month last year. It was the fifth straight month of spending declines.
Officials say the tourism economy is starting to plateau after two years of record-breaking growth. Fluctuating exchange rates, growing competition and the increasing cost of a Hawaiian vacation have all contributed to the slowing trend.
"Demand for the destination is extremely high — in fact you'll see at all-time highest levels — but the barriers to converting that demand are also very high," said John Monahan, president of the Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau, which markets the state to North America.
Uchiyama said the state is losing what he called "the bottom tier" of travellers from the western part of the U.S. mainland. If this lasts, he told industry professionals in a presentation of the agency's spring marketing update, airplanes will be less full.
"Then we lose the flights. And then we don't have the seats to fill the hotels. It's a viscous cycle going forward," Uchiyama said.
Arrivals from Japan, the biggest source of travellers to Hawaii from abroad, are expected to rise 6.3 per cent this year. But Japanese travellers will be spending less and staying in the islands for shorter periods, said Eric Takahata, who leads promotional efforts in Japan.
Takahata attributed this to a weaker yen, which gives Japanese less buying power in dollars, a planned increase in Japan's national consumption tax, fewer seats on flights to Hawaii and higher fuel surcharges for flights.
Tourism officials aim to bring about 30 per cent more visitors to Hawaii from China, the state's fastest growing market segment.
University of Hawaii economists have predicted that 0.7 per cent more visitors will come to the islands this year than last, a slower rate of growth than the 2.5 per cent increase marked in 2013 and the 9.7 per cent jump experienced in 2012.
Next year, Uchiyama said he expects U.S. leisure travel to fall off in a continuation of current trends. He said the industry needs to "get aggressive on pricing."