Hawaii Visitors Spending 40% More, But Enjoying It Less?

Hawaii Visitors Spending 40% More, But Enjoying It Less

State data is now in regarding June travel, and it is telltale. Reading between the lines provides even more insight into what’s really happening here in Hawaii.

First, the numbers. Visit0r arrivals from the most important West Coast are still down 4.5% compared with June 2021, although the Eastern U.S. secondary market was up 3.9%. That downturn is a result of economic concerns primarily. But we’d say there’s more to it than that.

Beat of Hawaii friend Jerry Gibson, president of the Hawaii Hotel Alliance (who your editors know from when he lived on Kauai), was quoted as saying, “I don’t see any shining stars throughout the next months. The festive season (Dec. 23 to Jan. 3) will always be strong. The rest of the year is softer than I expected.”

Frequently out-of-touch and controversial Hawaii Tourism Authority said, “Our current visitors are spending substantially more on their Hawaii trip, counter to the misperception that we are seeing a lower-spending, budget traveler. Even with these higher-spending visitors, we must continue our efforts in destination management to ensure the balance of economic benefits with environmental and community well-being.”

What’s troubling in Hawaii?

Problem 1: The demise of a high-value but reasonably priced Hawaii vacation.

Visitors from the crucial West Coast spent $963.3 million in June, which was up a whopping 39.4% compared with pre-pandemic June 2019. Those from the Eastern U.S. spent $662.5 million, up 34.9% compared with June 2019.

A nearly 40% jump in the cost of a Hawaii vacation is not sustainable. One of Hawaii’s raison d’etre has always been offering a high-value, moderately priced, exotic yet domestic vacation. Is Hawaii really prepared for something else if that paradigm is entirely out the window?

Problem 2: No marketing agency to help guide Hawaii tourism.

HVCB (Hawaii Visitor And Convention Bureau) was booted out unceremoniously several months ago. The state’s Hawaii Tourism Authority gave most of the marketing role to the Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement. But that has resulted in the now-disputed conflict as to who will be ultimately in charge of Hawaii tourism marketing. Their firing is being protested by HVCB, which was extended a short-term 90-day contract for marketing that ends in September. In the meantime, their marketing efforts have largely been scrapped as the dispute marches toward the courts.

Problem 3: Hawaii Forward bookings hit the skids.

It is already widely reported that the forward booking pace is crawling for the late summer and fall seasons. The holidays are always strong, but after that, we don’t see great signs ahead and 2023 looks to be a highly competitive, problematic travel environment with many Hawaii visitors instead opting for long-on-hold international destinations. And while slowing tourism to some degree may be desirable, a free fall would not be. Remember that tourism is far and away the largest income driver in Hawaii, producing hundreds of thousands of jobs and billions in tax revenue.

Problem 4: Overtourism challenges resulting in traffic, flight delays, airport jams, and lack of availability. 

Maui is soaring to numbers not seen since Covid. There were nearly 300k visitors last month, the highest in 2 1/2 years. But when it is widely reported that Maui airport features lines up to 3 hours long, that doesn’t bode well for returning visitors. Maui is also intent on reducing tourism and has in mind to find ways to limit it to a fraction of the current numbers.

But challenges are bigger than that and impact all the islands. Traffic has been worse than in years, while lack of staffing results in unexpected availability at places throughout the islands. The airlines have their own set of issues, but arrive early, and pack patience when traveling.

Problem 5: Anti-tourism sentiment continues, at least for now. 

There’s one thing about this. So long as there is too much tourism, this feeling will continue. But likely, as soon as there is a big drop in Hawaii tourism, which seems possible and even likely going forward, that sentiment could shift on a dime.

How Hawaii manages tourism is still complicated and clearly a work in process.

Hawaii seeks to move to a more sustainable form of tourism. Yet how that will evolve isn’t yet clear.

One issue is visitor-only or green fees. See Controversial Haena State Park controls topic of Peter Greenberg show. New controls and increased visitor fees are also in effect at Hanauma Bay, and Diamond Head, among others. These are spreading throughout the islands at the county and state levels.

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86 thoughts on “Hawaii Visitors Spending 40% More, But Enjoying It Less”

  1. Agree that 40% increase is not sustainable. I was a frequent Hawaii visitor to the point residents joked that I was a “resident tourist” but I have not visited in a couple of years now due to the high cost.

  2. We just returned from Maui a few weeks ago. We’ve been to Hawaii 5 or 6 times but not since 2019. Prices everywhere were pretty high but we didn’t give $1 to a resort or hotel. They are a total ripoff. Rented a condo, right on the beach. Free parking, no nonsense. We ate at only local places in Kihei. They were awesome. Rental cars are a necessary evil and ridiculously priced and taxed. Flights were packed but “affordable”. The locals in Kihei were welcoming. Elsewhere, especially in resort areas, not so much so we stayed away from spending any money there. But overall we noticed fewer “alohas” and “mahalos” than previous visits and Maui felt less special. Makena Big Beach was still the star, not crowded and beautiful, one of the best beaches in the world. The book your State park in advance nonsense for Aio Valley was lame, and the full loop past Hana is not open, also a pain. I think we prefer now the Big Island, loved our trip there in 2019.

  3. I have a question. Mary S. mentioned 3 daily destination fees (taxes). Are these fees Gov. Green’s way of getting around not being allowed to charge his $50 fee or are these something different?

    1. Hi Sheryl.

      There are no new taxes. Just those you already know. The ones that say destination are discretionary ones the hotel is inventing.


      1. Kenneth R, in the long run if nothing improves, it will be You losing. Did you ever imagine when you bought into your Timeshare that the day might come when tourists might not want to come to Hawaii? That Your Timeshare might lose appeal and value to others, all caused by the industry and Hawaiian Government? The potential for many things to occur, or not, is there. It’s not your fault, You are a Consumer, if things go sideways, or before, contacting the Consumer Protection Agency could be a prudent move. Enjoy your vacations somewhere else!

    2. Guys, would the Hotels and Resorts actually do something like making up and collecting destination fees? Isn’t that like saying that they are gouging tourists just because they can? Next thing you’ll be telling me is that across from the police department the Elite have been running Big Money Political Donation Parties to Buy Future and Present Political Favors. Guys, Hawaii isn’t Chicago or New York of the 60’s, is it?

  4. High Value? Where’s that coming from? Haven’t seen anything but the High Prices so far! Simply being in Hawaii isn’t a “Value” despite its Beauty, sorry it doesn’t qualify. Value would represent “Savings” and Other similar Ideals that show Discounts and other Benefits like these Examples. High Value for High Prices, Hawaii is only Half Way There, Show Tourists where the High Value Is! Currently there is only a Motto/Mantra/Catch Phrase without Any Sense of Value. Don’t even mention those coupon books!

    1. Prices are to high here to say the least. As time share owners, this is our 4th visit to the islands. Unfortunately, we are considering going somewhere else next trip. We been avoiding restaurants etc., because of inflated prices. So, who loses in the end.

      1. I have been a timeshare owner for about 20 years and plan on continuing to come every year. The yearly dues have unfortunately more than doubled. I will leave my timeshare to my kids as there is not much resell value. But Hawaii is my home away from home.

  5. The numbers don’t lie and Hawaiians will be receiving their long awaited presents after Christmas the way things are looking. What some scoffed at may just scoff back, a severe drop off in Tourism! With a stroke of a pen the 3% cap on property tax increases will be gone leaving everyone exposed to paying much higher. Jobs gone, businesses gone, traffic lighter, poverty UP. All of this is possible soon thanks to Hawaiians! Great Job if it occurs, if not too bad. Seeing Hawaiians picking up after themselves would have been fun. Watching them push ahead in the Food Kitchen line would have been insulting to their precious Houseless counterparts. What will Hawaiians do for an encore? Beg for Tourism to come back? Not on Your Terms or Prices!

  6. Things are only going to get worse, not only for tourists but for the locals as well. The link below is an eye-opening article and one that makes you wonder if the powers that be in Hawaii are bent on destroying the islands and the people that live there. What is looming on the horizon is not sustainable in Hawaii or anywhere else. zerohedge.com/commodities/hawaii-electricity-prices-skyrocket-final-shipment-coal-arrives

  7. Agreed. The money is removed from Hawaii, the people do not get enough benefit from the high costs to travelers. This imbalance is represented as two groups being irritated at times. Travelers get sour from paying some ridiculous prices. The locals don’t get compensated for labor performed during high travel times. It’s only fat cats seeing the money.

    1. The Wealthy will continue to accumulate more wealth. The Tens of Thousands of Worker’s will continue getting paid, and the Governments will have money to pay relatives and friends to perform overpriced and sometimes shoddy work. Island life is wonderful isn’t it? Hawaiians, not all of them, must be poorly educated not to realize what is happening around them, they keep electing the same types of people. They have no idea that jobs are created by Tourism, plenty of them, and those paychecks keep many people in jobs and so on. They don’t even get taught their own Hawaiian History, not the Real One anyway. It’s Not Funny!

  8. Resort fees are an issue with many. What are they for? We resent fees for something that we don’t need….or in many instance, do not receive.

    1. Scam. Let’s see, you’re paying for your room, you should expect Towels and Sheets, there are Dining and Bars, so there’s added profit, if Hawaii, the Beach, that’s free, Parking, no, that’s already $35-$45/Day+ Tax, Wi-Fi, if one has any Brand Status, N/C, so it ends up being the two bottles of water they may give you the first day. Buying one’s own by the Litre @ABC, mo betta. Their Pool, I guess Towels and Chairs are extra, even though you probably buy Drinks and a Burger, see profit. To make matters worse, if it’s a Marriott Bonvoy Property and one is using Points, they still charge the Resort Fee + Tax on that Fee, not so Hyatt, if on Award Points, they eat the Resort Fee and Tax.

      1. Being charged the maximum daily rate at Resorts for “Valet” Parking and being forced to park your own vehicle because they don’t have enough “Valets” to park the vehicles or even retrieve them when you are leaving to go somewhere! Knowingly Stealing from you because you stay there. Depending on which resort you are staying at there can be an option just a short stroll away that may cost you Considerably Less if you know where to look.

    2. The Chairs at poolside that are already taken, the pool towels, the odds and ends that are rarely seen, used, or available. All of these amenities plus that complimentary massage that you won’t get. All for $45 a day resort fee. They may even attempt telling you that the Valet to park your car is covered by that, it’s not. That’s why it’s $65 per day for parking!

  9. We used to go to Hawaii once or twice a year. I’m not going back again, I think I’m done with them. The people there hate us. They’re mean, they don’t want to allow us to eat. Last week when I was there a car driving by dumped a drink on me and yelled at us to go home. In the North Shore a car aimed at us to run us down and yelled at us to go home. No thanks. I’ll take my money elsewhere. I live in a tourist town on the mainland and I hate the traffic too. However, I don’t dump things on people and try to kill them.

    1. Always remember that Karma will repay those kindnesses that were extended to you. This kind of nonsense will eventually cause problems that aren’t expected, when it does the end results will be justified leaving little confusion over improper activities and consequences. Sad that Hawaiians have devolved to this, truly.

    2. There’s an Example of Hawaiians that believe that They are “Privileged” while telling us that We Are! Hawaii is getting more Radical by the moment and making tourists feel unwanted, what happens when they can’t even afford their backbone, a six pack? Worrying about these types of problems will spoil a vacation, ever notice that they Prey on people that they assume won’t retaliate? Backbiter’s like those are Afraid of being paid back, it’s part of their history. As Hawaiians keep doing these things to others they are also hurting countless others, relatives friends and other Hawaiians.

  10. Let’s also remember the impact of restrictions on AirBnB. Requiring 30-day minimums reduces the available accommodations for travelers.

    1. If the Court doesn’t give relief to the situation it will be the end of AirBNB, it will be 90 days minimum! Ige has been waiting for the outcome to occur and if it is upheld by the Judge he plans on making it Statewide. Ige is making Oahu the “Test Case” and whatever They do He will pass it on Statewide Too. Green is on board with this also. Listen closely. Hawaii needs to begin an Aloha Campaign to Combat Negativity, It’s out of hand and getting worse. Is This the Hawaiian Way?

  11. 1. These days it’s expensive to travel anywhere for vacation, but an informed traveler knows how to get high value for reasonable price.

    2. Hawaii gets plenty of marketing from travel websites, like BOH, Facebook and Trip Advisor. We’re going to Aulani in October I joined a Facebook group who has had every answer to any bodies question about Aulani.

    3. Isn’t that great lower fall bookings mean better deals.

    4. Again traffic isn’t exclusive for Hawaii all tourist areas have this issue.

    5. Ok if your looking for Anti-tourism sentiment you’ll find it again in any tourist destination, but I as many here have posted have never felt unwelcome when visiting Hawaii.

    1. You’re very fortunate, too many tourists have experienced it and have told others about it. Odds are that eventually you, or someone you know, will experience the discontent of a Hawaiian. Play Nice.

  12. The local governments believe they can add hotel & condo taxes & fees ad nauseum without fallout. Include in that group are hotels, airports, rental cars, etc. So when they raise their car rentals to $200 or higher a day it means I don’t spend money around different businesses which hurts the local economy & I spend less. Also, then aloha that I am use to receiving & giving back to & from locals has been missing mainly in the younger locals who seem to resent the visitors more but forget where their COVID unemployment relief money comes from and makes it possible.

    1. As prices keep rising to meet the demands of their Wants, not needs, some things will suffer alongside me too. I don’t have unlimited funds and will not spend extra beyond what I have planned. Unfortunately businesses that are not causing the problems will suffer by my inability to purchase at their establishments as often if at all. If Hawaii would practice Fiscal Responsibility things wouldn’t be this way. My loss is their loss, maybe even worse for them. Juveniles, they think Uncle Joe in DC will give them more money and Handouts, they haven’t a clue and may never. Life’s a joke to them! The Houseless have more sense, isn’t that a shame and waste of life expectancy?

    2. These were the taxes/fees which were added to my invoice for the hotel I was in early this year. In the meantime, the destination (resort) fee has been increased to about $40/day.
      The fees/taxes below are all daily fees.

      Accommodation Taxes 10.25%
      General Excise Tax 4.712%
      Oahu Transient Accommodations Tax 3%
      Destination (resort) Fee $29.00
      Destination Fee Accommodation Tax $3.00
      Destination Fee General Excise Tax 4.712%
      I still love coming to Hawaii but the taxes and all these fees are getting too much.

  13. Here’s a thought, if you look at the numbers in problem #1 they reflect a huge increase in post pandemic travel. Obviously that’s going to realign with reality. As mainland travel returns to numbers similar to 2019, International travel is about to return. Hawaiian has just reinstated much of their Japan flying so I think that’s a good indication that the market is returning to a more balanced melting pot of tourism. That’s a very good thing. The mainland airlines are pulling back because they can redeploy their aircraft elsewhere for more revenue. Besides Intl travelers returning, rooms not yet booked will likely be booked with more last minute travelers if people hear the huge influx from the mainland has abated somewhat.

    1. Last minute deals and bookings do occur, however, not in the amounts to make much of a difference. Using Assumptions to Dispell Actual Data and Historical Information doesn’t change the Validity of the Latter. Relying on Assumptions will only Disappoint those Relying on its proposed accuracy, it’s Inherently Inaccurate. If it holds true that 75% of Regular Year to Year Visitors will not be returning, that’s a Large Hole that Hawaiians have dug for themselves. Money Talks and You’ve Chased Lots Away, Not to mention “The Best Tourists You’ve Had!” Your Losses Are Climbing.

  14. I’m not sure Problem 1 is really a problem…but could actually be a solution. A high-value but reasonably priced Hawaii vacation will only serve to attract more and more visitors to islands that are already feeling the extreme pressures of overtourism. A high-value but high-priced Hawaii vacation could serve to reduce the numbers of visitors but maintain the overall economic benefit of tourism in Hawaii. Is a 40% jump in the cost of a Hawaii vacation Really not sustainable? Even if you see a 40% drop in visitors at that price point, if they are all spending 40% more then the economics even out. We need to align the available local workforce and infrastructure with the number of tourists and higher prices will quicklyhelp that.

    1. I think we agree Jeff that Hawaii’s problem going forward is not lack of demand, it’s going to be how the influx of future travelers is handled. As we see here plenty come to Hawaii and have a great time. That will always be the case. We had a little too much of the “SWA effect” as they attempted to swamp the market with their customers to get a footing in the market, now I think we’ll see some correction in that.
      Buy local, fly local, anything that supports the State and the future of Hawaii is good for tourism here and that’s good for everyone.

    2. This may come across as an unintended slight, however, here it is. If this is the Math that you were taught in school, don’t become an Accountant. If this is the Math that is used in local, county and state governments I can see Why and How Finances are so Screwed Up! Your example supposedly exhibits a “Same/Same” Outcome Dollar Wise. In all Honesty and Reality Hawaii would Lose anywhere from $1.12 Million and $3.92 Million per 1,000 Tourists based on a 7 day stay and spending a bloated $1,400.00 per day. This dollar amount includes Resort stay, resort fees, car and expenses, eating, attractions, parking, etc. A total stay of $9,800.00 and still No Value! That same amount would provide 5 Ten Day All Inclusive Stays in Punta Cana,that’s Valu

      1. Now that’s High Value and Reasonable Cost in one. Depending upon which Resort I picked we, yes that is for 2 people, could stay 6 ten day vacations or just do the 5 and go heavy on the tips that we give anyway. Flight, Food, Liquor, King Room, Resort Transfers, Excursions, Amazing Beaches, Amenities, Lounge Chairs, Towels, Specialty Restaurants, Etc. All Included in the price! Scenery that Rivals Hawaii too! See a Difference, and they actually enjoy tourists.

    3. Except youre forgetting that is only resort fees. So nownthey are serving 40 $ less dinners and drinks, 40% less rental cars, 40% less rooms. That means job losses unless every store and restaurant raise their prices 40%. Then good luck enjoying thst for the locals

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