Knowing These Critical Issues May Save Your Hawaii Vacation

Following a record 2019, Hawaii travel was largely shut down in 2020, as the pandemic brought the islands’ tourism machine to a grinding halt. Starting in March this year, however, a far faster than expected turnaround occurred for various reasons, which resulted in near and perhaps soon to be above-record tourism once again, together with a plethora of new and somewhat unexpected problems.

As one example of things to prepare for, did you know there are 34 delayed flights into and out of Hawaii’s airports just today alone?

During Covid 19, it became impossible to travel here without quarantine, which provided an unexpected but not entirely unwelcomed quiet in Hawaii. Reefs and the environment, together with residents, took a breath from travel. It might have been the same where you live if your community sees many tourists. Unemployment here skyrocketed too, as all travel-related businesses were shuttered, and Hawaii soon led the country in job loss.

Fast forward to 2021: tourism roars again.

Hawaii tourism has resumed with a vengeance. The pent-up demand on the mainland, mixed with the inaccessibility and uncertainty of international travel, continues to make Hawaii the most in-demand vacation destination. An added appeal is that Hawaii has seen meager infection rates.

Airlines aren’t in the clear either.

As we said, 34 flights were delayed today alone, and you can expect more of that and cancellations too. The airlines also have staffing issues, and one is even paying double-time for any overtime hours worked. And yet, in spite of this, there are just so many flights operating between the mainland and Hawaii. Hawaiian Airlines, expanded its domestic capacity and added new routes such that it has more domestic airlift than ever before. Southwest is clearly on a tear here as well and now has 34 Hawaii routes.

Price is often no obstacle.

This year, people are making up for what they didn’t spend during Covid. As a result, the high end of Hawaii travel is even more unavailable than the low end. That includes first-class airline seats, which are somewhere between difficult and impossible to find. The same is true at Hawaii luxury resorts and restaurants. It almost seems as though the more expensive the offering, the less available it is. We don’t remember ever seeing this phenomenon before, except perhaps at the holidays.

Where are the workers?

While travel returned, all of the systems, and more importantly, the employees who power Hawaii travel, did not. Many people chose not to return to their prior jobs. With the continuation of unemployment benefits, many had time to reassess life and make alternate plans. Many left Hawaii entirely, and the state estimated that workforce reduction at 16,000. It is believed that more than 40,000 positions remain unfilled in our travel sector, and it shows. Those workers who have returned feel the stress and are being asked to work as much overtime as is humanly possible. So when you don’t get the same Aloha as you would normally, please keep that in mind.

Hawaii hotels have a mess on their hands. 

Hotel occupancy and prices went through the roof. Rates that had been very low started growing, sometimes exponentially, including at Hawaii luxury resorts. Staffing hasn’t returned to prior levels, and there is a shortage of people to hire. Not all facilities have even reopened, and being without help, many operate during reduced hours. All hands on deck is the common outcry.

Car rentals either disappeared or became entirely unaffordable. 

Once cheap and typically easy to reserve, such car rentals are a thing of the past. We don’t know that those will ever return. Of course, that isn’t just true in Hawaii, but it does seem worse here, exacerbated by the fact that cars don’t easily find their way across the Pacific.

Who had ever heard of $200 a day and up for a car rental, unless it was for an exotic car? And how did Craigslist in Hawaii become primary the alternative, albeit questionable, car rental depot where old “island cars” usually start at well over $150 a day? Insurance, what insurance?

Hawaii vacation rentals are tough to find.

After the last year, we all value more space, privacy, and getting away from crowds. No accommodation type is as popular here as are Hawaii vacation rentals, and that’s more true now than ever. On the other hand, inventory is not back at the level it was before, while demand has skyrocketed and will stay that way for the foreseeable future. The lack of staffing plays a critical role here too and can lead to less than ideal circumstances.

We are hearing from multiple sources about vacation rental hosts, including Airbnb, VRBO, and others canceling reservations, often without little notice or recourse. Also, given the limited capacity at this time, those canceled may be hard-pressed to find alternative accommodations.

Hawaii restaurants: eating out here isn’t what it used to be.

We recently tried to get into a local cafe at their 5 pm opening and were flatly turned away. At the moment, restaurant reservations need to be had weeks to months ahead. For those who don’t accept reservations, do some research, then try to get there at off-times and at their opening, as you will likely be waiting in a line, and sometimes a very long one.

Activities are booked up too, so plan ahead.

Hawaii activities are so popular that they too have become oversold, especially when combined with staffing and other constraints. We checked and can confirm that various adventure activities and tours are already booked through the summer. So when these are important to you, it is best to check before making your air, car, and accommodation reservations. For those activities that don’t require advance booking, plan on waiting, and again, go early or during off-hours.

Even an ice shortage felt at Hawaii shave ice stands.

Here is something new that seems hard to comprehend. The ice makers can’t keep up with the demand for shave ice. When I saw one stand with a “no ice” sign, I thought it was a joke. But it’s real. Some stands are doing small sizes only.

We always look forward to your input!

66 thoughts on “Knowing These Critical Issues May Save Your Hawaii Vacation”

  1. Aloha and Mahalo for all the information.

    We traveled June 17th to June 22nd, to Oahu. We booked our Airbnb and rental car at the end of March. The Airbnb was under $800 for a studio in Waikiki and the rental car was about $440. Glad we got those reservations early.

    Airports: We flew from Las Vegas, NV to Honolulu. We flew on a new Southwest Airlines route and didn’t know about the Pre-Clear option at the Las Vegas gate. We sacrificed getting on the plane early to get cleared and so glad we did. After a 3 hour delay (Waiting for clearance on a longer runway (against the air traffic current route) using up taxying fuel, refueling, taking off fuel (too much was loaded) and finally getting clearance for runway 8) we took off and got to Oahu. We are glad we did the Pre-Clear because the line at the airport was very very long. On our return trip, we got to the airport about 2 hours before our flight. The line to check our bags was extremely long and we finally got to our gate with about 10 minutes to spare. I recommend getting there about 3 hours before your flight.

    It was nice driving around the island because I did notice the roads being less congested (lack of rental cars).

    In Waikiki, we stood in one line for about an hour to get ramen. The other times we ate, we went out away from Waikiki to eat at local places and didn’t have to wait long. About half of the places were take out only. We also ate several meals from our go to place, 7-Eleven. They have some really good hot dishes, Spam musubi and pork hash!

    Waikiki seemed a little less congested, but also restaurants/bars closed down early. I think there was a curfew for bars or maybe the demand wasn’t there to justify staying open longer. Several restaurants were closed either permanently or temporarily. 7-Eleven on Beach Walk was closed permanently.

    We are planning on going back probably in December

    1. Hi David.

      Thanks. We appreciate the report on your recent travel to Honolulu. Glad you can return again later this year.


  2. I think the problem lies with the mis-management of the whole tourism industry. The flights coming into the islands are back to previous levels while the restaurant, hospitality, activity, and rental car industries are still under reduced capacities. It only makes sense that there will be a shortage of everything for the huge numbers of visitors arriving daily to the islands, couple that with the enhanced unemployment benefits through September 6th and it’s a recipe for disaster.

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