Maui Business

US Mainland visitors to Hawaiʻi last month broke pre-pandemic mark; Maui spending up

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PC: Kehaulani Cerizo

While international travel markets are still returning, Hawaiʻi saw US Mainland arrivals last month shoot past pre-pandemic marks, according to a preliminary state report released Thursday. 

The state in March saw 686,038 visitors from the US Mainland, a 9.8% increase over March 2019’s 624,697, according to the state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism visitor statistics report.

Overall, 788,931 visitors came to the Hawaiian Islands last month, compared with 928,849 during the same timeframe in 2019.

Meanwhile, Maui and Big Island last month were only 11.9% under visitor arrivals for the same timeframe in 2019. Other islands were between 13% and 40% below their March 2019 numbers.  

With the fast resurgence in tourism, state and county leaders are considering measures to manage the visitor industry. State lawmakers are mulling whether to fund and implement a state study on tourism management, and Maui County Council members are looking to roll out caps on tourism accommodations

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There were 239,538 visitors to Maui last month compared with 271,934 visitors in March 2019, the state report said. The average daily census, a measure of the number of visitors present on any given day, was 63,948 Maui visitors last month, compared with 69,349 visitors in March 2019. 

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For Maui, visitors spent 3.5% more than they did in the same 2019 timeframe. March visitor spending was $458.8 million compared with $443.3 million in 2019. 

Overall visitor spending for Hawaiʻi last month increased 2.5% to $1.53 billion over the same pre-pandemic month of $1.49 billion. 

For the first quarter of this year, total visitor spending was $1.29 billion compared to $1.33 billion in the first quarter of 2019. 

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Cruise ship arrivals, along with international markets, such as Japan and Canada, have only recently seen resurgence.  

Through the first quarter of this year, there were 9,068 visitors from Japan — 97.6% below the 374,929 visitors in the first quarter of 2019.  

Also in the first quarter, there were 107,072 visitors from Canada — 49.8% below the  213,190 visitors in the first quarter of 2019.  

When it comes to cruise ships, 17,176 visitors entered the state via 13 out-of-state cruise ships during the first quarter of this year. That’s compared with 40,172 visitors who came to Hawaiʻi by way of 21 out-of-state cruise ships and 30,341 visitors flew to Hawaiʻi and boarded the Hawaiʻi home-ported cruise ship during the first quarter of 2019. 

The Hawaiʻi home-ported cruise ship, Pride of America, resumed April 9. Now more visitors are expected to fly here in order to board the ship.

International travelers last month contributed to the increase in visitor arrivals, with Canadian visitors at the highest arrival levels since March 2020, according to DBEDT Director Mike McCartney. Also, slight increases in Japanese visitors are continuing to build. 

“We are hopeful as we are still seeing a positive upswing due to domestic travel and the return of international visitors,” he said in a news release. 

The director added that demand will continue to spur faster recovery than anticipated. 

“Demand for quality lodging, food and beverage, activities, retail and services will provide the momentum necessary for the state’s economic recovery to happen quicker than predicted,” McCartney said. 

Hawaiʻi during 2019 had about 10.3 million visitor arrivals, a record-high year. The state was on pace in 2020 to see a high volume of visitors until the COVID-19 pandemic hit, which suppressed travel until the reopening of tourism with the Safe Travels program Oct. 15, 2020.  

The tourism industry has rebounded faster than economic experts predicted due to US Mainland pent-up savings and demand. Hawaiʻi travel restrictions via the Safe Travels program ended last month, which has made visiting easier. 

Now, economists are predicting Hawaiʻi will meet and exceed record-high visitor arrivals in the next few years.  

All the while, state and county leaders have been looking at ways to mitigate the negative impacts of over-tourism on limited infrastructure, natural resources and resident quality of life. 

Kehaulani Cerizo
Kehaulani Cerizo was born and raised on Maui and worked for nearly 15 years as a news reporter, copy editor and features editor at daily newspapers. She earned awards at The Maui News in Wailuku and at Today’s Local News in San Diego.
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