- Associated Press - Monday, January 30, 2017

HONOLULU (AP) - The number of people traveling to Hawaii neared 9 million in 2016 as visitor spending and arrival figures hit records for the fifth straight year, the Hawaii Tourism Authority said Monday.

The state agency said 8.9 million visitors came to Hawaii, up 3 percent from 2015. Tourists spent $15.6 billion in the islands, a 4 percent increase over the previous year.

A recovering U.S. housing market boosted travel to the islands, as have stable oil prices, said Daniel Nahoopii, the agency’s director of tourism research. “The economy has been pretty strong in the United States mainland,” he said.

The introduction of new airline routes and service also brought more visitors. For example, last year was the first full year Virgin American operated flights to Hawaii. The airline launched service to the state with routes from San Francisco to Honolulu and Kahului in late 2015.

Travelers from the U.S. West Coast grew 4.3 percent to 3.7 million. Travelers from the eastern part of the continental U.S. climbed 3.7 percent to 1.9 million.

Nahoopii said the industry benefited from relatively stable exchange rates for the Korean won and Australian dollar when it came to international travelers. A slight strengthening of the Japanese yen also helped.

Nahoopii said data indicates the additional visitors are staying in hotels and vacation rentals.

The number of people staying in hotels climbed 3.5 percent while those staying in rental homes climbed 7 percent, he said.

The state is forecasting continued visitor growth this year, though at a slower pace.

The state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism said in November it expected 1.8 percent more travelers to come to Hawaii in 2017. It forecast spending would rise 4 percent.

Tourism authority CEO George Szigeti said the agency is committed to maintaining this momentum in the current year.

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