Holiday Slump: Hawaii Struggles Unsuccessfully To Revive Tourism

Holiday Slump: Hawaii Struggles Unsuccessfully To Revive Tourism

Tourists clearly aren’t showing up in Hawaii as is normal at the peak holiday season. Your editors can attest to this as we saw transiting two of Hawaii’s perennially busy airports yesterday and flying to and within Hawaii, wherein things aren’t typically busy at this time of year. That’s been confirmed by others, including Hawaii hotel gurus.

And honestly, given a myriad of issues, it’s no wonder. As you see in the lead photo, even businesses at HNL were closed mid-day. While one store did open, the four next to it shown here did not. And that was in a typically busy terminal area. Another shock was flying a 175-seat plane yesterday with 38 onboard between HNL and Kauai just a few days before Christmas. The crew reported this had been the norm.

As one of our regulars pointed out, “Governor Green’s comments are hurting all once again. Visit the short-term rental message boards and rental sites on the web. Since these comments, people are increasingly afraid of booking Maui, worried that the government will take their rental away from them. This is unfortunate, once again. These plans must be thought out and carefully considered before airing. It’s just too easy to switch to another island, Cabo, Costa Rica, or a cruise. This is a sensitive situation. Stop giving tourists more reasons to stay away. Best to all my Ohana.”

Editor Jeff, who’s been here the longest, has been celebrating holidays in Hawaii for nearly half a century. And what he and editor Rob encountered yesterday was totally not normal. While their flight to Hawaii from the mainland was itself full, arrival at Honolulu Airport on the Wednesday afternoon before Christmas was anything but normal.

So why aren’t visitors coming to Hawaii as they normally do?

There are a plethora of reasons, and we know them all. But they aren’t improving as time passes, which is even more telltale and concerning. It starts, of course with simply too high costs, especially for Hawaii hotels and vacation rentals.

Abysmal messaging by the state of Hawaii.

This just keeps going on. It was greatly exacerbated by the Maui wildfires when the Lieutenant Governor, Hawaii Governor, and Maui Mayor couldn’t convey appropriate messaging to both handle the immediate aftermath of the fires and not scare away visitors for the foreseeable future.

Hawaii made the big mistake of thinking it could forget about its only source of income, tourism, for months.

Messaging from Maui and from the small but vocal anti-visitor sector have continued to cause concern about would-be visitors. On Kaanapali Beach, near Whaler’s Village, there is a fish-in protest 24 hours a day along the beach to discourage tourism until 7,000 people living in hotels have options for long-term housing. No matter how you view it, such protests discourage tourism while calling attention to the displaced fire victims. And this message has been seen and repeated around the world, which views Maui as a place not to visit for now.

Governor threatens to curtain vacation rentals on Maui starting next month.

Green has proposed a moratorium for Maui vacation rentals starting in January if he does not obtain enough voluntary conversions from short-term to long-term rentals to house fire victims.

We’re not sure how well that is going after getting this email from a reader named Sam, who asked us for help:

“I have been trying to rent my short term rental to a family that has been displaced by the Maui fire, but I can’t seem to get any responses from the State or the agencies. We really want to help out, but don’t know where to turn to, so I thought I would reach out. Any help would be greatly appreciated.”

Comment from Beat of Hawaii reader, Sam.

Aloha is largely lost in these much louder conversations.

Hawaii travel costs remain out of control and out of proportion to other destinations. Seasonal holiday bookings are depressed during this, which should be the most prosperous and busiest of weeks in Hawaii travel.

It also comes as travel is not down at other destinations, and it is being forecasted that Americans will have traveled more than usual during the 2023 holidays.

Recovery is simply not in sight for either Maui or for the state. Maui has never recovered from being shut down entirely, which had a ripple effect across all of Hawaii. Even though travelers were able to return to most of Maui, it wasn’t until just last month that West Maui was entirely reopened. While there’s some improvement on Maui, it is anything but normal there, and overall Hawaii visitor arrivals numbers for the month set will soon reveal what is clear and already seen on the ground..

Maui hotel workers rally in Kaanapali.

Yesterday, Maui hotel workers associated with their union, Unite Here: Local 5, had a news conference, sign-waving, and march to support those, including their workers, who, to this day, remain without long-term housing.

The union said this week: “While the proposed solutions before the Maui County Council related to short-term vacation rentals would provide immediate relief to some in need, they would ultimately lead to long-term problems for the Maui community. We call for solutions that address both the short-term and long-term needs for housing in Maui, including rent control, eviction protection, and the permanent conversion of short-term rentals in residential neighborhoods to long-term rentals.”

It has also been reported that some West Maui hotels have canceled holiday reservations to continue to be able to house fire victims. Outrigger is one of those hotel groups that asked visitors to change last-minute Maui plans.

State DBEDT direct Jimmy Tokioka acknowledged Outrigger for continuing to extend housing to displaced survivors by relocating more than 200 holiday bookings.

Hawaii hotels clearly notice the slump in Hawaii travel.

BOH editors’ friend and famed Hawaii hotelier Jerry Gibson also noted the current decline in Hawaii travel, saying, “Even if I drive down the street in Waikiki, I can tell it’s not normal. I think most hotels on Oahu are in the mid-80% for occupancy when during a normal festive season, we can be in the 90%-to-92% occupancy range.”

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142 thoughts on “Holiday Slump: Hawaii Struggles Unsuccessfully To Revive Tourism”

  1. Hawaiians voted, they received those who are now wielding the power of control. That control has cost every country untold monies, jobs that support families and cause the ripping apart of same. Where the fire damaged a portion of one island, the Elected officials, and the HTA, have caused losses Statewide. Is this what the Voter’s want?

    1. And yet … “they” (the voters) will Still vote for and allow to have complete control of Hawaii.

      Remember the definition of insanity?

      It’s either that, or something much worse.

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