Concerning Hawaii Tourism Decline | Ten Reasons It Happened

Concerning Hawaii Tourism Decline | Ten Reasons It Happened

Some may conclude that Hawaii is getting what it wants: fewer visitors. Many others don’t concur, including those within Hawaii travel, even at the state’s Hawaiian Tourism Authority (HTA). Recent data from the Department of Business, Economic Development, and Tourism (DBEDT) corroborates what we recently reported about Hawaii’s downturn.

In January, the Hawaiian Islands experienced another confirmed visitor decline, overall down 4% compared with January 2023 and far more in some places. Visitors are holding the line despite rising costs and are spending less, down nearly 5% compared to last year, according to DBEDT.

Hawaii Hotel Price Increases To 70%, Helping Stifle Over-Tourism

With the future of international travel uncertain at best, Hawaii is in murky waters. Exclusive reliance on Hawaii tourism continues amid slowly descending arrival numbers, with no alternatives to travel anywhere in sight. This downward trend impacted tourism-dependent Maui even more than the rest of the state for a number of reasons.

24% decline in visitors on Maui.

DBEDT chief Jimmy Tokioka said that the Maui wildfires continue to impact visitor arrivals, resulting in a 24% decrease in compared to last year. In spite of the numbers, there has been significant progress since the fire, which plunged to its lowest numbers after the Hawaii Lieutenant Governor told everyone to leave Maui.

Hawaii Tourism Left Out of Governor's New Year Messaging

Hawaii tourism is wobbly at best.

Hawaii’s tourism decline is by no means just based on the Maui wildfires. Following post-Covid demand, the state’s entire core U.S. tourism market remains in decline. At the same time, in 2024, Americans are traveling to Europe in record numbers, in spite of increases in tourist taxes, visa requirements, and other limitations.

Recently, the HTA told the state legislature that they are concerned about Hawaii tourism data and are looking for help to “stabilize” the industry. HTA Chair Mufi Hannemann spoke about strong competition from other destinations for Hawaii’s visitors, saying, “This is the economic revenue generator for the state, this industry. You can see it right now; the trend is going to continue, and spring looks pretty soft as well. It’s not good news, but we have a plan.”

Reasons for the Hawaii tourism losses include the following:

Big Island Vacation Rentals

1. Concerns about short-term Hawaii vacation rental troubles.

The future of Hawaii vacation rentals looks troubling. Last week, the governor swore about Hawaii vacation rental owners, and still threatened a proposed ban on Maui vacation rentals starting April 1.

2. Those seeking better value exotic destinations from Mexico to the Maldives.

While Hawaii is a beautiful and domestic tropical vacation, it has come out of many people’s price range. People are branching out from Hawaii, and we hear that daily in your comments.

3. Perceived anti-visitor sentiment.

Real or perceived, there is the sense that anti-visitor feeling here has grown stronger. This issue isn’t going away, and while there’s no real alternative to tourism in the short-term, the idea remains in many people’s minds. And with the governor calling “Bulls***” on vacation rental owners, it is easy to see just how pervasive this attitude can be.

4. Problems in Hawaii including sorely lacking infrastructure and more.

The state’s challenges follow over six decades of rapidly growing non-stop tourism. That growth came with not enough planning, infrastructure, or fiscal management. You need look no further than Hawaii airports, beach parks, and roads to see what’s happened.

5. Negative perceptions are partly based on social media behavior.

Instagram is the ideal platform for sharing Hawaii vacations while connecting with family and friends. But Instagram led to bad behavior in Hawaii. Issues have arisen while seeking the perfect Instagram moment. While there’s no doubt that social media transformed Hawaii travel marketing, it also influenced Hawaii visitors’ behavior and the experiences some seek to share. The quest for the most outrageous content in photos and videos has sometimes resulted in unwanted, self-centered behavior.

6. Hawaii overcharging while underdelivering.

3* Hotels for $500+ per night are an example. One of the most frequent subjects in comments has been cost, especially accommodations. Today, our longtime reader Tom said, “When every destination in Mexico, the Caribbean, and places like the Maldives or Seychelles are more affordable, folks that enjoy the entire experience of those destinations might not return.” Alexander added, “We recently fell in love with Costa Rica, beautiful beaches, reasonably priced hotels (even the 4 and 5-star resorts), warm water, and most of all…….very welcoming people.”

Aloha On The Endangered List. Hawaii Gone Wrong.

7. Lack of welcome/aloha.

Greg said, “No Aloha! We’ve visited the Islands every year since 1985. Skipped last year due to the messaging and cost. We love and respect the islands but are not willing to go somewhere that we are not wanted.

Wendy added, “There is no Aloha spirit. That is a tourism tagline. We owned a house on Kauai for 50 years! We sold it because I no longer felt comfortable being there.”

Cindy concluded, “My husband and I feel completely unwelcome! We go to Oahu four times a year. We have always planned to move there. After all the comments by the governor, locals quoted in the news stories, and the violent crime rate, we are totally rethinking our future and where we spend our money. We have totally downsized everything and saved constantly to make these trips possible. No Aloha spirit. Just feel completely unwelcome.”

8. Fickle Hawaii does and doesn’t want tourism.

Or, as we already stated, it only wants certain tourism. Last year, Hawaii Tourism Authority awarded a new contract, which started this January, to help attract “mindful and respectful” European visitors. And the governor visited Japan to try to win them back to the islands. HTA said it’s focus is on “increasing per person, per day expenditures.” But now, even HTA has retrenched, saying we need to “stabilize” Hawaii tourism.

9. Current and planned new fees and taxes.

These include a $25 tourism impact fee and new accommodation taxes beyond 18%. Take your pick; one or both will likely come to fruition. Governor Green said about the fee, “We’ll invest it for beach preservation, fire breaks, and other measures.” Some are completely opposed to this while others just have concerns. Long-time commenter Lee said, “I wouldn’t mind paying a $25 impact fee if I thought it would actually go to things like wildfire abatement etc. but I have my doubts about that.”

10. Poor messaging from Hawaii continues.

The concept of curating mindful visitors may be all good and well-meaning. On the other hand, you’ve said repeatedly in comments that it doesn’t come across right most of the time and can lead to the feeling of not being wanted. We also can’t think of one time that the governor has ever expressed any appreciation towards Hawaii visitors. Steve said, “My only other issue is the request to be “mindful”. I always do my best to respect any location we visit, however we travel to get away and relax not to immerse in local culture. If that is a requirement for travel to Hawaii, I’m out.” Lisa added, “I doubt that I will ever voluntarily fill out a Hawaii tourism survey again due to the negative impacts of being preached at about the need for tourists to be ‘mindful,’ wealthy, and preferably Japanese or Canadian and not American.”

West Coast arrivals led the decline.

Arrivals from Hawaii’s far and away top source of revenue, the U.S. West, were down more than 7% from January 2023. This is the first time we have more objective data since Covid (instead of using 2019) with which to compare. Their spending was also down about 5% from January 2023.

East Coast arrivals are fewer but were down 10% compared with January 2023, and Japan arrivals are still challenged. While up 64% compared with a dismal January 2023 number, it remains down 56% compared with before Covid. Spending remains down as well.

What would your first steps be in order to improve visitor numbers if you were in charge of Hawaii Tourism Authority? We can’t wait to hear Mufi’s plan and yours!

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191 thoughts on “Concerning Hawaii Tourism Decline | Ten Reasons It Happened”

  1. Real Reason 1(For West Maui). The fire. People and politicians did not listen about opening up tourism too soon in West Maui when so many were still under extreme trauma and displaced. Result= Fishing for housing at Ka’anapali, bad experiences, witnessing first hand the devastation and trauma, feeling unwelcome and out of place in general, realizing they were lied to that it was OK to come to West Maui in the first place at that time. Sitting in traffic realizing that everyone is More Trapped Now than before the fire. A looming STR re-organization, Not a Ban, is absolutely Not one of the reasons people are not coming to Hawaii right now. They are All still available for the foreseeable future.

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  2. Until the state starts getting serious about the crime, homelessness, drug use, and general pilau attitude of locals regarding tourists (especially the white ones – if you’re brown or Asian you miraculously get a pass), the numbers will continue to fall. Inflation has people watching their budgets closely, and that money goes a lot further somewhere else.

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    1. Keanu,
      I totally agree with how the locals ate treating tourists.
      I am not a tourist to Maui.
      I am white( well actually after being there I am brown), this last time being there I was treated rudely quite alot. That has never happened before.
      I do need to say also, that there still some very nice locals. I found in the retail stores so many rude workers tiwards who they thought were white tourists.
      I am soeaking of the non touristy stores. Just your every day stores.

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  3. I’m in Maui now, my 5th overall visit to Hawaii. I find the people incredibly welcoming and hospitable, same as always. The hotel rates on the other hand are astronomical! Resorts wanting at least $750 plus taxes and resort fees is simply unattainable for the average American. We are staying in a quaint studio condo/hotel in Napili with one double bed for $360 per night, but it only sleeps 2. The island is very quiet and landing a restaurant reservation has never been easier. I think the majority of the blame is on the hotel costs. Airfare was incredibly cheap but not enough to counter the hotels and their fees. Speaking of fees, AirBnB and VRBO rentals look affordable on first glance, until you go to checkout and see all the fees too!

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  4. Well, the article is accurate on the many reasons why Hawaii tourism is in decline. My two visits a few years prior to the pandemic was underwhelming. Expensive, traffic jams, unpleasant locals ( they are undoubtedly struggling to live in Hawaii themselves). The overcharging and under delivering is all too true. Once we considered moving to Hawaii but high cost and incompetent government at all levels is reducing housing options for most Americans. You vote for fools and you end up with foolishly little.

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