The USS Arizona Memorial tallied 1.8 million visitors last year, which was 168,000 fewer than the year before, in large part due to the ongoing closure of a memorial access dock.
Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park registered a whopping 900,000 fewer visits — dropping from 2 million in 2017 to 1.1 million in 2018 — with the dramatic and disruptive eruption of Kilauea Volcano.
Haleakala National Park on Maui had 68,000 fewer people visit in 2018, on top of 151,000 fewer visitors in 2017.
The latest visitation statistics released by the National Park Service show that 2018 was a particularly challenging year for some of the state’s busiest tourist attractions, with associated park economies taking a hit.
The news isn’t getting any better on some key fronts for the National Park Service in 2019, either.
“I don’t have a number for that, but I have to believe (the reduced visitation) has a negative impact on all of us” at Pearl Harbor, said Aileen Utterdyke, president and CEO of Pacific Historic Parks, a nonprofit that assists the Arizona Memorial.
With the counts down, “then that means that people are not necessarily coming to maybe even Hawaii, and they are changing their plans, potentially,” she said.
That impact extends to hotels and the tour companies that transport visitors to the memorial, Utterdyke said.
Three other nonprofit museums — the USS Bowfin Submarine Museum and Park, Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum and Battleship Missouri Memorial — rely on the gravity of the solemn battleship grave for their own visitation.
All of the museums were down about 5 percent for 2018, said Gabriel Lennon, marketing manager for the aviation museum.
“Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum and the other historic sites are working hard to be more relevant than ever to our kamaaina and military to help buoy the shrinking visitor numbers,” Lennon said.
According to the National Park Service, Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park had a $222 million impact on the local economy in 2017, while the Arizona Memorial brought a $145 million benefit. Haleakala had an $89 million effect. The 2018 figures are not out yet.
Utterdyke said that unfortunately, she expects “another challenging year ahead of us” at Pearl Harbor. “I think we all took a big hit for FY18. I know Pacific Historic Parks did. We need to regroup. We need to start trying to rebuild our reserves and rebuild the holes that have come up because of all the things that have happened.”
In addition to walk-on visits being curtailed to the Arizona Memorial since May due to a faulty dock, 2018 featured government shutdowns and hurricanes that interrupted visitation.
Mother Nature was not kind to the more than 400 parks nationwide. Visitation dropped by nearly 13 million from about 331 million in 2017 to 318 million in 2018.
“The decline was throughout the year — visitation was down in 10 of the 12 months, and the other two (May and June) were statistically flat compared to last year,” National Park Service spokesman Mike Litterst told National Parks Traveler last week. “The biggest factor seems to be Mother
Nature and closures
associated with natural
Litterst noted that most of Hawai‘i Volcanoes was closed for more than four months due to the eruption of Kilauea. South Florida and Caribbean parks experienced closures due to Hurricanes Irma and Harvey, he said.
Yosemite and other California sites, meanwhile, had closures due to wildfires, and rainy weather affected visitation to parks in the mid-Atlantic, he told the Traveler.
Still, the 318 million visitors was the third-highest total since 1904, the park service said.
The reduced numbers at the Arizona Memorial and Hawai‘i Volcanoes were due to obvious events.
Haleakala’s downturn was attributed by the park to “regular fluctuations in visitation,” said Andrew Munoz, a spokesman for the National Park Service’s Pacific West Region.
“Some factors that may have weighed heavier in the most recent years are the price of airfare, visitors changing their plans to visit the state due to the eruption at Hawai‘i Volcanoes, the closure of the Pools of Oheo, and to a limited extent the implementation of the sunrise visitation system,” Munoz said.
The National Parks Conservation Association, a nonprofit parks advocate, on Monday raised alarm with the Trump administration’s 2020 budget plan, which calls for a $481 million cut to the National Park Service budget, the group said.
“This would result in the loss of hundreds of park staff and dig our parks into an even bigger financial hole as they face nearly $12 billion in needed repairs,” the organization said in a release.
Due to past cuts, parks are already “dealing with crumbling facilities and too few rangers and other staff to serve visitors,” according to NPCA.
Ten months after the dock failed that serves as the disembarkation point for visitors to access the Arizona Memorial, the park service is still struggling to move forward with a fix. A worn-out shoreside dock that is needed for harbor boat tours also could fail at any time.
The park service emphasizes that the visitor center and its two museums are still open and that visitors can still see a movie about Pearl Harbor and take a boat ride along Battleship Row.
But Aaron Sanchez, a 28-year-old Marine who visited Tuesday, said it was disappointing not to be able to step onto the Arizona Memorial — which also might sum up much of 2018 for Hawaii’s parks.
“It was just kind of looking at it from afar,” Sanchez said. “It’s something you want to be close to, kind of experience up close and personal, but instead you have to see it from the boat, seated, and take a picture with your phone. So it kind of removes the personal experience.”