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.


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

  1. We have been to Hawaii 5 times! We love the Islands and it’s people. Our dream is that tourists will come with the Aloha of the Islands and the people and that a balanced and respectful trouse can be made. We love Hawaii and would hate to not be welcomed by the people we love and respect.

  2. Big parts of Hawaii have become a dump and homeless encampment. Many destitute locals and criminal newcomers from the mainland deal drugs, commit thefts, steal and then burn cars or dump their derelict cars all over the islands. The island’s government must take some drastic measures in disallowing non-Hawaiian homeless to come to the islands and send back to their state of documentation those non-Hawaiian who are currently homeless in Hawaii.
    And then there’s the locals hostility towards haole. If you are fenced off in a five star resort, maybe you can ignore the signs of deterioration, but you still can’t miss them when you are driving around the island, even only from and to the airport. Not my idea of paradise.

  3. I’m mostly white, but my whole family are registered Ojibwe tribal members through my native grandfather. Our reservation in Northern Wisconsin is still very wild lush and peaceful. It would make me very sad if a bunch of McDonald’s started flooding the place and the tourists started hurting wildlife/dumping garbage in our great Lakes. Hawaii Natives and locals have a legitimate reason to be annoyed by tourists. I see so many bad behavior things like them climbing on top of the honu for photos.

    But I also think respectful and sustainable tourism is possible. And for a small island like Hawaii, financially a neccesity to pay bills. Was a HI first time visitor in March. Hilo! Beautiful! I shopped local to make a positive impact! Thanks! 🙂

  4. I went to Hawaii for the first time just last year. Every person I met there was great. My tour guides were very informative and taught a lot about native hawaiian culture. I went to Kauai and The Big Island and I think that improved my experience staying away from more crowded areas. I fully plan on going back to both those islands and visiting Maui and Ohau also. The biggest thing for me is telling people to respect the land and the culture if they go. If you teach people to be respectful they will want to protect Hawaii more but still go see all it has to offer and contribute to its economy.

  5. What this article forgot to address is that the State of Hawaii is its own largest employer. More people work for the State or federal government than in tourism. The tax revenue goes right back in their own pockets. Please heed a warning: Big government, big tech, big pharma…..big trouble.

  6. I am a full time resident of the state of Hawaii, I love our state and I understand that tourism is important to the state, I feel that by just having an “open door” to the islands was possibly not a good idea. When you are trying to accommodate more visitors onto an island than you have residents things can get out of hand. As with many things the pendulum usually does not settle to a middle ground, but as a state we need to find a way to welcome visitors in a responsible way while also keeping the visitor count manageable for all islands. I don”t thinks visitors or residents want Oahu or any of the other islands to become a “Las Vegas”.

    1. US citizens have a right to move freely about the country. Hawaii is not a seperate country and has no right to limit visitors. The residents do not dictate hotel prices and rental cars etc.
      Nativism only serves to divide the population and weaken the vote. We are not fighting each other, but managing the economy. Without tourism, many essential services will not be available.
      If citizens of the state of hawaii do not like the management of the economy, perhaps they should consider choosing other leadership, same as any other community in the US.

  7. I have been to Aruba and like it there better. I was not in awe of Hawaii. Did not feel the Aloha family feeling everyone talks about. Stayed in ko olina which is beautiful. Roads are awful for traveling.

    1. They are over charging for Hawaiian sun drinks in the can 12 oz for $2.50 a can these people over charging the goods you can buy for .35 a can at longs when you buy a 6 pack

  8. As they say….. money talks. Prices can say ‘come, you are welcome here’ or they can say ‘stay away – we don’t want or need you.’

    Our budget can stand only so much. Not sure if it can withstand the costs of another vacation to Hawaii. We are hopeful – but cannot say with any certainty that we will ever be able to visit again. Lots of good memories, though.

    It would be interesting to know just how some of the folks (locals) on this board who bash tourists make their living. They have to eat and buy gas and pay rent or mortgages just like everyone else. How do all these folks who want tourists to stay away or just pay lots more to make ends meet? Wonder if they are 4th or 5th generation Hawaiians or transplants with money?

  9. My concern is let the residence benefit and let the government agencies and groups implement their wise judgments like those before them. Though, I don’t think local, county and state government are spending enough of those tourism dollars for the direct benefit of residents. As far as, some past habitual visitors are deciding know to come back, well, there will be others and more after you leave. Hawaii islands are a visitor dream. We are talking about citizens who saved monies for what..,10, 20, 30 years before made their first visit. And they kept coming back. Others will, too. I have benefited more from the islands than I have benefited the the islands. But, I have had enough too. Mahalo.

    1. I’ve been to Hawaii before it’s a beautiful island to visit I’ve been to Honolulu, Waikiki beach,aloha,Oahu,and Maui as well as Kauai and I’m planning on going back to visit Hawaii again sometime next year


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