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Businesses ‘fighting for survival’ as Hawaii visitor arrivals fall below 400 for 2nd straight day

  • DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARADVERTISER.COM
                                Residents enjoy an uncrowded Waikiki Beach on Father’s Day. Only 399 visitors came into the state on Monday, the Hawaii Tourism Authority said today.

    DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARADVERTISER.COM

    Residents enjoy an uncrowded Waikiki Beach on Father’s Day. Only 399 visitors came into the state on Monday, the Hawaii Tourism Authority said today.

Only 399 visitors came into the state on Monday, the second day in a row that the count dropped below 400.

The Hawaii Tourism Authority reported today that 1,655 passengers arrived in Hawaii on Monday. In addition to visitors, the 20 arriving flights also brought 517 returning residents and 72 people who said that they planned to relocate to Hawaii. There were 192 airline crew members and 169 transit passengers who didn’t plan to leave the airport.

Also arriving were 150 military members and 156 people who were exempt from the state’s mandatory 14-day self quarantine for out-of-state passengers, which began on March 26. The out-of-state passenger quarantine, which is slated to run through at least July 31, has nearly zeroed out tourism.

Some 340 visitors that arrived on Monday went to Oahu, while 56 visitors went to Maui and three to Kona.

Most, or 70%, of the 323 Oahu visitors who answered the state’s question about the purpose of their trip said they were coming to see friends and family. About 16% — or 52 visitors — said they were coming here to vacation, while 12% — or 40 — said they were coming here on business. Eight percent or some 27 visitors said they planned to relocate to Hawaii. The percentages don’t add to 100% because visitors were allowed to make more than one choice.

Normally in June, the state gets 35,000 passengers a day, most of them visitors. For the entire month of June 2019, when Hawaii tourism was still in growth mode, visitor arrivals rose about 6% to 951,628 and non-seasonally adjusted spending rose nearly 3% to $1.64 billion compared to a year prior.

The state lifted the interisland passenger quarantine on June 16, but the relaxing of regulations has only been of limited benefit to Hawaii’s visitor industry. Some visitor industry members have reported weekend strengthening, but few are seeing weekday benefits. Also, the volume of interisland travel hasn’t been sufficient enough to entice most of the hotels that closed down after travel demand declined amid COVID-19 fears and government lockdowns to continue.

Hawaii’s dependence on tourism and the continued shutdown of out-of-state visitors has resulted in steep trickle-down impacts that have critically weakened Hawaii’s economy.

Still, pulling the trigger on the broad reopening of tourism is complicated as leaders must balance the urgency of reopening Hawaii’s economy against the risk that more freedom could bring a second-wave of COVID-19 cases that ruins Hawaii’s current track record.

Gov. David Ige is expected to announce a plan to use testing to reopen tourism for out-of-state visitors soon, which can’t come quick enough for many Hawaii businesses, especially those that depend on tourism.

There’s broad business support for reopening Hawaii tourism, but the opinions of community members and the government leaders who represent them tend to be more divided. Going into the COVID-19 pandemic, resident sentiment for tourism had fallen to a new low with some community members concerned about overtourism in pockets of the state.

The Chamber of Commerce Hawaii delivered to Ige today a petition with more than 1,000 signatures calling for a “definitive plan for restarting trans-Pacific travel, a clear and consistent direction for reopening, clarification on the “Act with Care” designation, dedicated (personal protective equipment) supplies and contact tracers, and several other measures to help small businesses.”

The petition was also supported by the Kauai, Maui, Molokai, Kapolei, Kona-Kohala and Hawaii Island Chambers of Commerce; Retail Merchants of Hawaii; Hawaii Food Industry Association; Hawaii Farm Bureau; Hawaii Food Manufacturers Association; and the Hawaii Restaurant Association.

“Local businesses are fighting for survival. The overwhelming response to this petition by signers from all walks of life, including those who are currently unemployed, makes it clear that our state needs to do more to provide assistance and clear guidance,” Sherry Menor-McNamara, Chamber of Commerce Hawaii president & CEO, said in a statement. “(Payroll Protection Program) funding and other grants are running out, and the business community needs long-term support to prevent mass closures. Many businesses cannot reopen until trans-Pacific travel returns, and those that have reopened are further challenged by murky guidelines, competing jurisdictions and the absence of a unified message. All we are asking for is a clear, safe path forward.”

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