Hawaii’s economy isn’t expected to make a comeback anytime this year despite some bright spots in the state’s tourism industry, according to a forecast released Friday by University of Hawaii economists.

The four-page report paints a picture of a sputtering recovery that won’t gain strength until about 2015, noting that any tourism gains have not had an effect on the broader economy.

“The relatively slow pace of recovery will pose challenges in the form of continuing high unemployment and lagging tax receipts,” said the report by the University of Hawaii Economic Research Organization. “Consumer spending is lackluster and construction remains in the doldrums. While we do not expect a double-dip recession, growth will remain anemic through 2011 before some strengthening builds.”

But the UHERO report did note “heartening” growth in visitor arrivals and spending this year before cautioning that “the cooling of growth in the U.S. and overseas markets will be a challenge for tourism over the next year.”


“This return of visitors has been relatively widespread, with every county posting their highest quarterly visitor counts in roughly two years,” the report says.

Here are some examples of tourism growth this year:

  • Between April and July, monthly visitor arrivals were up 8.4 percent on average compared with the same period last year. (Hawaii saw a total of 680,496 visitors in August, the ninth consecutive month of increases, according to a separate report by the Hawaii Tourism Authority.)

  • Monthly visitor expenditures have exceeded $900 million in four of the past five months. Spending hasn’t been at this level since August 2008. (Visitor spending hit $1.1 billion in August, up 30 percent from a year ago, according to the HTA. Year to date spending for 2010 sits at $7.5 billion.)

  • The number of U.S. travelers to Hawaii was up 4.1 percent in the second quarter. June’s 397,600 U.S. visitors to the state was the highest monthly count since March 2008. These visitors came mostly from Texas, Oregon and Washington state. Still, mainland visitor arrivals are 15 percent below their average level in 2006 and 2007.

  • For international travel, visitors from Canada have emerged as a growth spot. During the second quarter, Canadian visitors totaled 81,000, compared to 40,500 in the fourth quarter of 2001. The report noted Canadian travelers are an attractive market because they spend more time in the islands (an average of 12.8 days) than visitors from the mainland (9.9 days) or Japan (5.8 days), and they have the highest overall trip spending.

  • Statewide hotel occupancy rate in June was at 74 percent — the first time it broke the 70 percent mark since May 2008.

  • Looking ahead, total visitor arrivals will rise 6.7 percent for 2010 as a whole, slowing to 2.7 percent in 2011. Hawaii’s annual visitor count will remain below its 2006 peak until 2015.

Regarding employment, the UHERO report said Hawaii’s unemployment rate is expected to average 6 percent in 2011. The national average is at 9.5 percent.

Here are some of the jobs highlights:

  • The tourism gains have meant some job creation in related industries, including accommodations, food service, retail trade and air transportation. Each of those four industries saw 3 percent to 4 percent year-over-year job growth in July 2010 — much higher than the state’s 1 percent overall job growth for that month.

  • Other sectors haven’t seen much job growth. The only other industry that saw an increase was health care, at 2.7 percent for the same time frame.

  • Construction industry: 9.3 percent fewer jobs than last July.

  • Looking ahead: Total non-farm payroll jobs will expand by 1.3 percent in 2011, following this year’s decline of .2 percent. The largest job growth next year is expected to be in the transportation and utilities sectors at 5.1 percent.

The report concluded with a look at the state’s revenues from tax collections.

For the fiscal year ended June 2010, tax collections were up 3.9 percent from fiscal 2009. The increase in the general fund — $162 million — was mostly due to delaying payment of $275 million in anticipated state income tax refunds in 2010.

Because that is expected to have been a one-time deal, the increase isn’t promising. But the report noted a couple of tax hikes expected to boost tax collections.

  • A 1-percentage-point increase in the Transient Accommodations Tax to 9.25 percent, which took effect July 1 and runs through June 2015. Hiking it by 1 percentage point in fiscal 2010 generated an additional $25.7 million.

  • An increase in the cigarette excise tax effective July 2010 raised an extra $3.4 million in its first month of operation. (It’s $3 per pack, up from $2.60.)

“Overall, the state fiscal situation remains difficult but is headed in the right direction,” the report said. “Recovery is under way in Hawaii, even if it has not yet touched all sectors.”

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