Why Hawaii’s Repeat Visitors Aren’t Returning – Does Anyone Care?

In comment after comment, we’ve heard an outspoken and repeated voice. Here’s just one example today to set the tone. “Hawaii is extremely expensive. The native population is unfriendly and unwelcoming. Despite that we have been visiting the beautiful islands continually for 20 plus years. If these new tourist ideas and fees are implemented we will have made our last trip. Period.”

Yesterday, the Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) booted out the Hawaii Visitor and Convention Bureau (HVCB) with its 120 plus year history in the state, and gave the marketing contract to an organization apparently without tourism experience but rooted in Native Hawaiian culture. The announcement was stunning. Will the Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement be able to help the state navigate some of the most important issues it faces, given their singular focus on Native Hawaiian issues?

Hawaii has had a very high return rate of visitors. Why that’s about to change.

The reasons are multifold.

1. Visitors are increasingly able to travel more freely now that Covid is more in the rear view mirror. International travel has been largely off-limits but not so anymore. Most of those who opted for Hawaii regularly  in the past will choose other destinations.

2. Perceptions linger that Hawaii is anti-visitor. We suggest the problems are caused by over-tourism; having too many people here at one time. That’s the sentiment from HTA and many residents. A huge change is in the air, but with the amount of money at stake, will reducing tourism cause economic hardship?

3. Higher than expected Hawaii vacation costs. While prices are up from the grocery store to airline tickets, and everywhere in between, Hawaii seems to have fared much worse in this area than some other destinations. Hawaii hotel prices are stratospheric, as are Hawaii car rentals. Then we add the highest visitor accommodation taxes in the country. It isn’t a good equation.

In the last study, Hawaii repeat visitors accounted for a staggering 68% of all arrivals.

In 2019, statewide, repeat visitors accounted for 68% of all arrivals, a number that had been rising.

Did you know that on average a return visitor to Hawaii has been back to the islands more than seven times.

The percentage of repeat visitors varies by place of origination:

U.S. West – 81%
Japan – 68%
Canada – 65%
U.S. East – 59%

When visitors return to Hawaii, they head to these islands:

Oahu – 55%
Maui – 30%
Big Island – 17%
Kauai – 14%

What is the value of returning Hawaii guests.

Guests that return provide airlines, accommodations, and almost everyone with a regular income stream. Thus, the loyalty of returning guests has made them a cherished asset, especially since they tend to also be the brand advocates for Hawaii. They become influencers with a broad reach across social media, and in comments on websites such as Beat of Hawaii. Many of Hawaii’s return visitors, for example, have been regulars on Beat of Hawaii for ten years or more. A familiar name, Colleen, who we’ve subsequently met in person, has contributed hundreds of comments about Hawaii since 2009.

Other reasons that returning guests are so important.

Return guests are said to spend more because they already value Hawaii and know it meets or exceeds their expectations. They’re also more likely to accept paid upgrades and ancillary options for the same reason. It’s easier to manage expectations with return visitors who simply know what’s reasonable.

Now the Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement has the ball.

It’s in their court, to see what happens next. An organization focused on one aspect of Hawaii, which is very important and meaningful to all, now has to embrace everyone to tackle these important issues and help set the direction for the state. If you were in their shoes, what would you do?

We leave you with today’s comment from Una, a reader on Beat of Hawaii.

“If covid proved anything Hawaii needs tourists to support their state infrastructure which they have been getting from the (exorbitant) taxes on everything. Tourism seems to now be the only thing supporting their economy, so go ahead, “marginalize tourists” and good luck with that!

Note: The data used was from 2019, which is the last year before Covid. The next comparison years will be 2022 and 2023.


428 thoughts on “Why Hawaii’s Repeat Visitors Aren’t Returning – Does Anyone Care?”

  1. 1893. If you don’t know the significance of the year 1893, maybe start there. Ignorance drives a lot of the issues between visitors and Hawaiians. The people that make money from tourism have last names like Hilton. That money doesn’t stay here, it provides minimum wage jobs so local people can not just be poor, but poor and working.

  2. I have been visiting Hawaii every year for 20+ years. I fell in love with the Aloha and the people of the Hawaiian
    Islands. Unfortunately my bank account has not grown as fast as the hotels, the restaurants, and the activities of the islands.
    And the once bountiful Aloha has all but disappeared. Necessity has turned to greed and evil acts on the tourists.
    We all want Hawaii to thrive but at some point we have to say enough!

  3. Resident xenophobia is not rational. Those who desire a traditional life style can find that on all of the islands. Those who desire a more modern lifestyle with access to modern amenities like supermarkets, Costco, Walmart, a multitude of restaurants, rental cars, stable governance, jobs, and laws benefit from the availability made possible by mainland commerce. In addition to the island paradise, the availability of these goods and services is fundimental to the appeal of the islands. If this were not so, the islands of the Caribbean and the rest of Polynesia would be much more popular.

    1. I use to vacation there every 1-2 yrs, but now that I’m retired can’t afford it. And I even own a timeshare.

  4. My wife and I have been visiting Hawaii for the last 25 years. Her mother is from Maui and her stepmother is from O’ahu. We have gone to the islands over ten times for vacations and family reunions. I think our last trip will be our trip of May 2022. Even before the pandemic we noticed the locals getting less and less friendly, and yes we were good travelers to Hawaii respecting the culture and land…..in part due to family connections. What really galled me was the change in locals attitudes when I told them I’m portagee and my wife’s family are locals. I find it sad because we love the beauty of Hawaii and the Polynesian culture.

  5. I don’t think we’ll be back. My husband’s ancestors worked the sugar cane fields in Hawi but still we are just tourists when here and we feel the hate. Our rental was smashed in, trunk window, for a damn cooler. Thieves must have forgotten to bring food. Then we read that they rounded up 33 swimmers at Two Step and they will face a 20,000 fine and year in jail for swimming with dolphins. This was just 2 days ago, we swam there 4 days ago, thank God no dolphins were there….why don’t they just outlaw swimming and snorkeling? Yah I’m done with this god forsaken place. Looks beautiful but evil lurks behind.

  6. I have visited Oahu since the 70s and lived and worked there in the 80s. It has now become more like the New York city of the Pacific with the high-rises, traffic, prices, and attitudes instead of the Aloha spirit! I think I will have to find another vacation spot for the month of May everg year! Sad!

  7. Yes, it is paradise
    However after over 25 years of visits, at least once per yr, we definitely felt the higher taxes and fees as well as the anti tourist sentiment.
    It is a slippery road, and the economy needs tourism; on the other hand cost have skyrocketed and locals are affected. There are several control tools and mechanisms available, some in place already, ie. Visitor Fee/Tax, and different fees for accommodations. On the other hand, many places are seeking visitors and entice tourism ie Belize, Costa Rica, Portugal…
    We love the big island and have many local friends. We hope to keep returning while not overcharged and not wanted

  8. If u think it’s expensive and overcrowded now wait until China and Japan let their citizens leave. Glad I’m here now and not next year. It’s gorgeous here but I can’t see returning anytime soon.


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