HONOLULU (AP) — More than 104,000 travelers arrived in the islands on cruise ships — mostly from the West Coast — in the first 11 months of last year, according to the most recent data available. That’s a 14.5 percent increase from the same period in 2010. There were 59 cruise liners that pulled into Hawaii ports during that time, an increase of 11.3 percent.
There are several reasons for the growth, industry experts say, including the presence of more cruise ships in the Pacific and a fear among some travelers of ongoing drug-cartel related violence in Mexico.
The industry still hasn’t recouped a pre-recession peak of about 130,000 passengers reached in 2007, but travel agents say demand for West Coast to Hawaii cruises is strong.
Rich Skinner, who owns a Cruise Holidays franchise in Woodinville, said the perception of violence and the reduced itinerary has kept some people away. “It really became less appealing for people to cruise down and spend a day in Cabo (San Lucas) and Puerto Vallarta and four days at sea,” he said.
Skinner said more ships are coming to Hawaii because the cruise companies have the capacity, having built so many ships in the past couple decades. The cruise companies also need somewhere to send the vessels in the winter after they spend the May to September summer season taking passengers around Alaskan waters. They send ships to the Caribbean in the winter, but are also bringing some to Hawaii.
The market for the Hawaii and Mexico cruises differs somewhat.
Hawaii cruises from the West Coast tend to last longer — 14 to 18 days — and include multiple days at sea. They thus tend to be popular among people who have been on cruises before and are ready to spend several days on the ocean at a time.
They’re also more expensive, because they’re longer.
David Uchiyama, vice president for brand management at the Hawaii Tourism Authority, the state agency that promotes Hawaii around the world, said the trend among cruise ship companies was to keep vessels in the Pacific instead of taking them to Atlantic.
To take advantage of this business, Hawaii must showcase new activities — like the Hawaii Food & Wine Festival and Mele Mei, a month long celebration of Hawaiian music that started last May — activities cruise passengers might enjoy while they’re on shore, Uchiyama said.
“Being able to attract more cruise companies to our shores is an opportunity that the Hawaii Tourism Authority is working towards,” he said in an email.
In late September, at the end of the Alaska cruising season, most cruises from Seattle are repositioning cruises to Hawaii and other destinations, like the Panama Canal. For example, Holland America offers a 35 day circle cruise to Hawaii, Tahiti and Marquesas, according to their website.
— Copyright 2012 The Associated Press with contributions from tamacbsseattle