Hawaii visitor arrivals and spending have been on the decline for the past two consecutive months when compared to 2022. That’s bad news for Hawaii but may be good news for visitors looking ahead at the holiday season or wanting less crowded beaches. We’ll share our analysis of the findings with you that were released today from the Department of Business, Economic Development, and Tourism (DBEDT)
According to Hawaii Tourism, “both visitor arrivals and visitor spending decreased for the second consecutive month compared to 2022.” The state says it is as Hawaii’s tourism continuing to be impacted by “the aftermath of the August Lahaina fires. That is true to a significant degree but may not fully explain the data.
The Christmas and New Year holiday period may be less robust than in prior years.
Typical seasonal airfares are a measure we’ve used for years to look at visitor demand. Flying to Hawaii from the West Coast has, for many years, cost $700+ round-trip during the December holiday season. In checking this morning, however, we found from both Southern and Northern California, many surprisingly cheaper airfares.
Examples of lower Hawaii airfare for the holidays.
Looking at west coast departures to Maui, the lowest fares we found today are starting from about $450 RT, from all-important Northern and Southern California gateways. Flights to Kona are at or near typical $700 rates from Northern California and up to $200 less than normal from Southern CA. Honolulu airfares, by comparison, are also starting at from $100-$200 less than normal for high-season rates from both Southern California and Northern California. It’s also interesting to note that virtually all Kauai airfares are at or above normal holiday season prices.
In terms of the numbers the state just reported, 651K visitors came to Hawaii in September, which is a decrease of 7% from the prior year and down 12% compared with 2019. Visitor spending of $1.4 billion was down 9.6% compared with 2022. But still up 10.2% compared with 2019.
So the net effect is that 12% fewer visitors are spending 10% more than pre-Covid. That is largely a function of the sky-high costs that visitors incur, starting with Hawaii hotels and other expenses. The length of time that visitors spend in Hawaii remains mostly unchanged, at just under 9 days.
Airline seats to Hawaii are still somewhat down.
Last month, 4,374 flights arrived in Hawaii, with 964,132 seats. Flights are down about 3% compared with both 2019 and 2022, and seats are about on par with 2022 but down 5% compared with September 2019.
Impact of Maui fires.
Maui took the brunt of Hawaii’s tourism shortfall. The state said, “The impacts from the Maui wildfires were significant in September 2023 with “Both visitor arrivals and visitor expenditures down by more than 50 percent for Maui for the month compared to 2022. Visitor arrivals on Maui in September 2023 (94,221) recorded the lowest since February 2021 and visitor spending of $203.2 million on Maui in September 2023 was the lowest since March 2021.”
Hawaii remains in a tourism slump for a myriad of reasons.
The fire undoubtedly had a huge impact as seen in the worst Maui showings since the Covid shutdown. But it goes beyond that. Hawaii continues to suffer from very high visitor costs. Also, tourists read in social media about not being wanted. Add to that the lack of appropriate, high-quality tourism infrastructure, and a widespread shortage of employees, among other things, as some of the top reasons that some travelers are thinking of or choosing other destinations. And we’ve definitely seen far more comments specifically to that effect recently than ever before. There may also be a waning of travel interest or available travel money, although that certainly wasn’t apparent elsewhere in our travels from May until October.
Where are travelers going instead?
They are heading to Mexico, the Caribbean, and other tropical destinations that are still near the US mainland and are attainable at lower cost. At the same time, there’s a stronger than ever demand for international travel by Americans who are flocking to Europe and elsewhere. We witnessed that clearly this summer. Destinations including London, Switzerland, Spain and France were clearly overwhelmed, largely by American holiday-seekers.
Is Hawaii on your short-term bucket list?