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Coronavirus pandemic drives sharp drop in Hawaii tourism with arrivals down 75%

  • JAMM AQUINO / 2020
                                Two women wearing masks cross Kalakaua Avenue.

    JAMM AQUINO / 2020

    Two women wearing masks cross Kalakaua Avenue.

Stricken by the COVID-19 pandemic, Hawaii tourism entered 2021 in critical condition with visitor arrivals down 74% from the previous year, according to preliminary statistics released Thursday by the Hawai‘i Tourism Authority.

The agency reported 2.7 million visitor arrivals in 2020, when tourism shut down in mid-March as the virus took hold here and across the globe. That compares to 10.4 million arrivals in 2019.

The attempted reopening of tourism in the last quarter of 2020 through the state’s Safe Travels prearrival testing program didn’t do much to boost the industry’s vital signs, HTA reported, with December arrivals down 75% compared to the same month in 2019.

Only 235,793 visitors traveled to the islands by air service last month compared to the 952,441 who arrived by air and cruise ships in December 2019, HTA said. (Cruise ships remain under a “no sail order” issued in March by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.)

Even with COVID vaccinations taking place across the nation, visitor industry officials have said Hawaii tourism isn’t likely to experience a meaningful rebound until the third or fourth quarter of 2021, if then.

Other points from the HTA report:

>> Oahu welcomed 112,856 visitors in December compared to 558,346 visitors in December 2019. Spending by domestic visitors during the month dropped nearly 80% to $156.5 million. (Spending data for international visitors were not available.) For all of 2020, visitor arrivals dropped 75% to 1.5 million.

>> Maui saw 90,605 visitors last month versus 275,419 visitors a year earlier. Visitor spending in December was down almost 64% to$185.9 million. Total 2020 arrivals decreased 74% to 791,660 visitors.

>> Kauai has had the tightest travel restrictions of all the counties, and it showed in the HTA statistics, with only 3,759 visitors arriving on the island in December compared to 124,356 the previous year. Spending for the month cratered 94% to $10.4 million. Visitor arrivals for all of 2020 dropped nearly 76% to 330,954.

>> Hawaii island counted 48,134 visitors in December compared to 177,912 visitors in 2019. Visitor spending for the month plunged nearly 63% to $98 million. For all of 2020, arrivals fell 72% to 492,325.

>> In December, total trans-Pacific air capacity declined roughly 52% to 599,440 seats. Total air capacity statewide for the year decreased 61.8% to 4.72 million seats as a result of cutbacks in air service.

>> Most of the December visitors were from the U.S. West (151,988, a decline of 64%) and U.S. East (71,537, down 67%). Canada accounted for 3,833 visitors, a drop of 94%, and only 1,889 visitors came from Japan, a drop of almost 99%.

>> For the entire year, visitor arrivals by air from the U.S. West dropped 71% to 1.3 million and were down 70% from the U.S. East to 676,061. Arrivals from Canada decreased 70% to 161,201 and were down 81% from Japan to 297,243.

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