Discount carrier Allegiant Air entered the Hawaii market Friday, as the first flight from Las Vegas arrived at Honolulu International Airport with great fanfare.
Passengers disembarking the Allegiant Air 757-200 jet were greeted with music, lei and a traditional Hawaiian blessing.
"It was excellent," said Texas resident Juan Cantu, who was traveling to Hawaii for the first time with his wife, Adeline. "We didn't have any trouble. The flight was smooth."
Tourism officials hope the Allegiant Air flight from Las Vegas marks the beginning of other discount airlines entering the rebounding Hawaiian market.
"It just creates a more competitive environment, not only with low-cost carriers who are eyeing up our destination right now, but also with our legacy carriers," said David Uchiyama, vice president of brand management for the Hawaii Tourism Authority.
Although the Las Vegas market is already well served by other airline carriers, Allegiant is mounting an aggressive push to break into markets with few or no direct flights to Hawaii.
Allegiant will debut a weekly flight from Fresno, Calif., to Honolulu on Sunday. The carrier plans on adding five additional weekly flights from Bellingham, Wash., Eugene, Ore., Monterey, Calif., Santa Maria, Calif., and Stockton, Calif., in mid-November. A second weekly flight from Fresno will also be added in mid-November due to strong demand.
"For many of those markets, unlike Las Vegas, they do not have direct service to Honolulu or any of the islands," said Allegiant spokeswoman Jessica Wheeler. "For many of those communities, they would have to drive to a larger airport, and that may have been an hour (or) two-hour drive."
Allegiant's Las Vegas and Fresno flights are expected to add $30 million per year to Hawaii's economy, resulting in $3 million in additional tax revenue for the state.
"To sustain tourism we need to be able to draw out of new markets, and flights like this where they're going to be coming out of second and third-tier cities are real important," said Uchiyama.
For the month of May, Hawaii broke all previous records for visitor arrivals and spending.
A total of 633,899 visitors arrived in the islands last month, an increase of 12.5 percent from May 2011. Visitor spending, meanwhile, reached $1.1 billion in May, up 17.5 percent from the same month last year.
However, Uchiyama said there is still plenty of room to grow. Statewide hotel occupancy in Hawaii stands at 72 percent, and some neighbor islands are filling only 60 percent of available rooms.