Hawaii tourism still years from full recovery

Tourists visiting Hawaii have not quite hit numbers before COVID-19 shut down the industry, but the ones coming for some R&R spend more and stay longer.

Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism officials say the uptick in tourism dollars is creating more jobs and has the Aloha State on track to make a full economic recovery by 2025 despite post-pandemic inflation and supply chain issues driven by the Ukraine-Russian war.

According to preliminary DBEDT visitor statistics released for September 2022, Hawaii saw 703,270 visitors to the islands last month, which is down only 4.5% when compared to the same month in 2019. The visitor spending for the month in nominal dollars ($1.48 billion), on the other hand, is up – 18.5% compared to 2019 ($1.29 billion).

The DBEDT statistics show that the yearly totals follow the same trend. Since the beginning of this year, Hawaii has welcomed more than 6.8 million visitors, a 12% decline from the estimated 7.8 million seen in 2019. Visitor spending, however, is up 7.9%. Visitors in 2022 spent approximately 1.05 billion more compared to their 2019 counterparts.

Statistical data also indicates that visitors, mainly from other states in the U.S., are staying longer. According to the DBEDT statistics, the average length of stay for American tourists was 8.9 days in September 2002, up 5.9% from the average 8.4 days in 2019.

DBEDT Director Mike McCartney said that statistics show a promising upswing for Hawaii’s economic recovery post-pandemic.

“The DBEDT remains positive that Hawaii will achieve a full recovery by 2025 despite a strong dollar, global inflation and fossil fuel supply chain disruptions due to the Ukraine-Russian War,” McCartney said in a statement on the tourism statistics. “It’s important to note that on average, every visitor in Hawaii spends about $2,100 per trip while staying in our islands which adds about $250 in state tax revenue (per person per trip) not including county tax revenue generation. It is also important to note that every 50 visitors support one job in our state.”

Hawaii’s unemployment rates support McCartney’s view. Last week, the state reported it had one of the largest drops in unemployment seen in the nation from last August to September 2022. Some 2,700 jobs were created as a direct result of the state’s tourism and unemployment went down to 3.5%, the DBEDT previously reported.

Still, with the influx of tourism capital and job creation, tourism to Hawaii from other countries – namely Japan – remains down. Japanese tourism to Hawaii, for example, was down approximately 83.3% from September 2019 to 2022.

McCartney said he expects the state will see an increase in international tourism in the coming months as restrictive travel bands in other nations begin lifting, which will only further boost the Hawaii economy when they do.

“Japan expects an increase in both in-bound and out-bound travel with new (less restrictive) COVID protocols for travelers,” added McCartney in the statement. “Hawaii anticipates an end-of-year pick up in Japanese travelers as well as international travel overall which should help end 2022 on a high note and provide momentum going into 2023.”

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