You don’t have to look far for evidence that Hawaii’s visitor industry is expanding.
The night lights are brighter in Waikiki. Traffic is backing up in popular tourist spots on the weekends. Visitors and residents are jockeying for space on Hawaii’s beaches. Reopened luaus are selling out fast.
Economic indicators and company announcements add to the conclusion that tourism is on the rebound.
Occupancy at Hawaii hotels rose to 43% in March, up from about 31% in February and 23% in January, according to data from Nashville-based STR released Wednesday. It was Hawaii’s highest statewide occupancy in the last 11 months of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Hawaiian Airlines launched its nonstop service between Honolulu and Austin, Texas, on Wednesday — the carrier’s fourth new route announcement in less than two months.
The Polynesian Cultural Center, one of the state’s larger attractions, is launching a new sales package in anticipation of fully reopening all its island villages on April 26.
Safe Travels Hawaii, the state’s traveler entry program, which started Oct. 15, as of Tuesday had screened nearly 2.67 million travelers, including nearly 2.01 million visitors. As many as 485,021, including 396,949 visitors, came during the first 20 days of April. As of Tuesday, the seven day average of travelers screened by Safe Travels Hawaii was at 22,815.
Chris Kam, OmniTrak president and chief operating officer, told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser Wednesday that “Travel demand for Hawaii is picking up,” according to preliminary data from the firm’s first quarter TravelTrakAmerica survey.
The survey, which began in February and is being conducted through April, each quarter queries approximately 27,000 travelers across the U.S. who had traveled in the last year.
Kam said 14% of travelers in the latest survey said they were considering a trip to Hawaii in the next two years, up from 11% at the same time last year.
Kam said Hawaii was the fifth most popular state for travel considerations behind Florida, California, New York and Texas. At this time last year, Kam said Hawaii was the seventh most popular state, coming in behind Colorado and Nevada as well.
“People have gone a year without travel and now they are trying to make up for lost time,” Kam said. “They want the fulfillment that travel brings.”
Peter Ingram, Hawaiian Airlines CEO and president, told the Star-Advertiser Wednesday that its been at least 15 years since Hawaiian added so many new routes in such a short time.
“It certainly hasn’t happened since I’ve been here,” he said. “We are feeling a little bit more of a bounce in our step. We know we aren’t out of the woods yet. But we are seeing more rays of sunshine than dark clouds — so we are really encouraged about how things are getting better.”
Ingram and Kam said full restoration of Hawaii tourism isn’t likely to come until the threat of COVID-19 is fully managed, and international travelers return to the state. Still, they said the U.S. travel market is performing better than expected.
Ingram said, “Load factors are starting to recover. We’ve had certain days in the 70s and 80s (percent capacity).”
Heading into June, Ingram expects to see load factors looking “more and more like they were before the pandemic.”
“So we’re not all the way back, but we’re on the incline,” he said.
Hawaiian is offering its new service from Honolulu to Austin on Wednesdays and Saturdays and from Austin to Honolulu on Thursdays and Sundays. The carrier already has plans to increase its Austin-Honolulu service to thrice weekly from May 28 to Aug. 13 to meet summer travel demand.
Hawaiian Airlines spokesman Alex Da Silva said the airline’s systemwide network is expected to reach between 75% and 85% of 2019 levels this summer as the Austin service augments the earlier launch of new service. New service includes Ontario, Calif., Orlando, Fla., and Long Beach, Calif., as well as the start of service between Maui and Phoenix and the resumption of Maui and Las Vegas service next month.
Da Silva said, “U.S. mainland is about even and should be slightly higher once we start our Phoenix-Maui and Las Vegas-Maui in May and increase frequencies on some routes to meet summer demand.”
The Travel Agency Booking Trends report, released in April by the Hawaii Tourism Authority, estimates the booking pace for U.S. travelers in the third quarter at slightly below the pace of 2020 and far below 2019’s results. However, the fourth quarter booking pace for U.S. travelers to Hawaii exceeds the 2020 and 2019 fourth quarter booking pace.
The booking data doesn’t show much third or fourth quarter pickup for Hawaii’s top international markets, including Japan, Canada, Korea and Australia.
Pattie Herman, HTA vice president of branding and market development, said during a recent World Tourism Network event that the agency was still throttling back on promoting international markets, where visitors face quarantines and other travel-dampening restrictions upon their return home. However, Herman said HTA planned to ramp up marketing to the U.S. market starting in May.
She said the travelers coming to Hawaii as part of the current tourism rebound aren’t necessarily representative of Hawaii’s targeted travelers, the mindful visitors that the agency seeks to lure through its marketing and branding efforts.
“Right now the people that are coming are the people that really need to get out of their homes,” she said. “Because of necessity many of the hotels are on sale and many of the airlines have put ticketing on sale. While we are enjoying the visitors coming through, it could be that it’s not our targeted visitor.”