Without a doubt, this has been the oddest year we can ever remember in Hawaii travel. At least for those of us who call Hawaii home. We suspect it may have been the same for Hawaii visitors too. If you joined us after Covid, let us know what differences, if any, you noticed.
In the end, Hawaii seems to be adjusting to visitors returning. That’s true even as the neighbor islands, where international travel doesn’t play much of a role, have seen more visitors than ever before.
The shocking juxtaposition of tourists, then no tourists, then tourists, threw everything awry.
We went from 2019, which was record-breaking, to the Covid downturn in early 2020, where everything crashed. Then, as had happened a decade earlier, there were no more tourists. And that was odd; very odd.
Your editors remember Hanalei looking like a ghost town on a summer day with no traffic, businesses closed, and the beach empty. It felt eerie and also concerning about what the future would be.
Then starting earlier this year, Hawaii tourism rebounded with a naively unexpected vengeance. Clearly, Hawaii travel wasn’t ready and chaos related to the lack of people to do the tourism jobs, from airlines to hotels to restaurants, ensued. They had been fired, they had quit, the jobs were gone, and in the end, not too many people wanted these service positions any longer.
Clearly, the world had changed. And last but not least, our heads were left spinning with so many rental cars on the road again.
Tourists and residents seem to be playing together better once again.
As tourism returned, a discernable shift in attitude came too. Not just in Hawaii either. While most visitors are both kind and considerate, a change for the worse seemed to occur. And you tell us in your comments that was true.
“Revenge travel” became an attitude of entitlement for some Hawaii visitors. When travelers are over-indulged, demanding, and have higher than possible to fulfill expectations for Hawaii. Some travelers didn’t get the premium service they expected, especially as prices escalated, and acted out. We can tell you as residents that when you see this, it’s easy to start to think that entitled Hawaii tourists are more pervasive than they are.
Also, the way news works, it’s always easier to find the bad than to see the good. So even though bad behavior was the exception, it dominated the news. That included visitor trespassing incidents and misconduct arrests, among other things.
Tourism is complicated and controversial in Hawaii and similar tourism-centric locations.
We know there had been growing unrest for years as Hawaii tourism continued to grow and grow without bounds and much-needed infrastructure, planning or effective governance.
There has been, to be honest, growing discontent with ever-increasing Hawaii tourism that’s been ongoing for years. Hawaii is being overrun with tourism, that is without question. And Hawaii doesn’t have either good infrastructure or planning skills and never has. These are severe shortcomings for a state so focused on travel.
The need for better tourism management, rather than tourism development, has never been so clear. That’s true at every level, from community organizations to government. It is hard to find anyone who doesn’t now think that management and planning are what’s needed and not more visitors. Hawaii can’t manage the number it already has.
Missteps along the Hawaii travel reenvisioned path.
Hawaii is making some attempts to look at tourism in healthy ways. Hawaii’s Destination Management Action Plans are intended to do just that. And yet they’re controversial and include limits, fees, and other measures that will need to be worked out over time. There will be some delays, too, in figuring this all out. The state must currently deal with all of the controversy and likely lawsuits around its failed marketing entities, the Hawaii Tourism Authority and the Hawaii Visitor and Convention Bureau. But we’ll get there.