Maui News

Hawaiʻi Still Struggling To Bring Back International Tourists

September 30, 2021, 11:18 AM HST
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Maui’s tourism is recovering from the pandemic, with many visitors exploring ʻĪao Valley State Park in Wailuku. Photo Credit: Cammy Clark

In 2019 and the first two months of 2020, the State of Hawaiʻi was experiencing record levels of tourists and visitor spending, but the booming tourism came to a screeching halt with the arrival of the global COVID-19 pandemic.

Eighteen months later, tourism in Hawaiʻi has recovered well in the domestic mainland markets but the international market continues to struggle, according to preliminary visitor statistics released by the state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism (DBEDT).

A total of 722,393 visitors arrived by air service to the Hawaiian Islands in August 2021, down 22% from the arrivals in August 2019. The loss of visitors primarily is from Japan (down 98.1% vs. August 2019), Canada (down 78.5% vs. August 2019) and other international markets (down 82.1% vs. August 2019).

Visitors to Hawaiʻi in August 2021 spent $1.37 billion, 8.9% less than the $1.5 billion tourists spent in August 2019. There was $269.9 million less revenue from Japanese and Canadian tourists in August 2021 than two years earlier.

“The August 2021 results showed that total visitor spending and visitor arrivals continued to steadily improve on the strength of the domestic travel market,” said Hawaiʻi Tourism Authority President and CEO John De Fries. “However, until the international travel market returns, Hawaiʻi will not reach the pre-pandemic levels of higher visitor spending that is essential to the state’s economy. It is also important to remember that tourism recovery is non-linear, meaning it ebbs and flows, and softening is anticipated for the traditionally slower fall shoulder season.”

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Tourism from Canada has begun to rebound with the resumption of Air Canada flights from Vancouver to Oahu and Maui, increasing from two flights in July to 36 flights in August. Visitor count from Canada reached 6,154 in August, which was the highest since the breakout of COVID-19 in March 2020.

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“We expect tourism to be slowing down in September and October, but recovery will accelerate in November,” said DBEDT Director Mike McCartney. “The easing of the international travel restrictions by the Federal government that will be effective in November will help bring more international visitors to our state. We expect total visitor arrivals for the year will be at 6.8 million (65 percent recovery from 2019) and visitor expenditures at $12.2 billion (68.5 percent recovery from 2019).

While tourism in Hawaiʻi is traditionally slower in September and October, it also may be affected by Hawaiʻi Governor David Igeʻs urging on Aug. 23 for travelers to curtail non-essential travel until the end of October 2021 due to a surge in Delta variant cases that has overburdened the state’s health care facilities and resources.

For Maui, visitor spending for August 2021 was $329.1 million, down only 3.9% from August 2019 despite the total number of visitor days down by 6.8 percent (135,367 less days).

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The slow recovery of international travel is the driving force for the lower state August 2021 numbers.

Japan accounts for the biggest drop in tourists – 98.1% – from 2019 to 2021. There were 3,005 visitors from Japan in August 2021 compared to 160,728 visitors in August 2019. Visitors from Japan spent $9.5 million in August 2021 compared to $236.9 million in August 2019.

Tourism from Canada also has not recovered. In August 2021 there were 6,154 visitors arrived from Canada, 78.5% less than the 28,672 visitors in August 2019. Visitor spending from Canada also was down about 75%.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also continued to enforce restrictions on cruise ships through a “Conditional Sail Order,” a phased approach for the resumption of passenger cruises to mitigate the risk of spreading COVID-19 onboard.

Year-to-date 2021

Through the first eight months of 2021, total visitor spending was $7.98 billion, down 33.8% from the $12.06 billion spent through the first eight months of 2019.

A total of 4,353,794 visitors arrived in the first eight months of 2021, a 98.5 percent growth from the first eight months of 2020. But it also was a 38.6% decrease in tourists compared to the 7,092,809 visitors in the first eight months of 2019.

To view the full release and tables, click here.

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