Road Warrior

Hawaii's high prices scare away some mainland visitors

Rob Lovitt, NBC News Contributor
Douglas Klug | Flickr | Getty Images

Just as Hawaii's trade winds bring cooling breezes to the popular vacation destination, high prices may be putting a chill on the state's tourism industry. The effects, say local promoters, include slowing growth, declining visitor spending and fewer opportunities for bargain-hunting travelers.

"There are fewer economy travelers than there used to be," said John Lindelow, owner of Travel Hawaii in Kailua, on the east shore of Oahu, who cites higher hotel rates as a major cause. "They're making it into a higher-end destination."

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Travelers from the mainland, in particular, are feeling the squeeze. According to the Hawaii Tourism Authority, 378,061 travelers arrived from the other 49 states in January, a drop of 4.4 percent from the year before.

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Those visitors also spent less: $193.20 per person per day, down 5.2 percent from a year ago, which, in turn, contributed to an overall drop in tourist spending of 4.7 percent for the month, to $1.37 billion. That represents the fifth consecutive month of spending declines.

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Tourism officials are concerned enough that they've lowered their forecast for total visitation for this year from 8.7 million visitors to 8.4 million.

Still, that will constitute an increase over 2013, a record year in which 8.2 million travelers visited the islands. As a result, even the current slowdown in visitation is unlikely to lead to a sudden flurry of bargains and discounts.

(Read more: Road trippers, jetsetters traveling more in 2014)

For Lindelow, it's simply a matter of supply and demand finding something of an equilibrium: "People complain when the growth rate isn't high enough but that's crazy" because the slowdown comes on the heels of record visitation levels.

"Personally, I like the level where it is," he said. "If the demand got even stronger, they'd build even more hotels and Hawaii would lose its charm."

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—By NBC News contributor Rob Lovitt