HONOLULU (KHON2) — Tourism is back and some islands are seeing more visitors than pre-pandemic.
Hawaii will allow vaccinated mainland travelers to bypass a pre-test and quarantine to enter the state in less than two weeks.
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The University of Hawaii’s Economic Research Organization (UHERO) said that should not lead to a spike in visitors because most summer trips have already been booked, along with lodging restraints and the rental car shortage.
“We could see a small jump [in visitors], but frankly, we’re looking at summer, probably surpassing 2019 levels of arrivals are being very, very close to that,” explained UHERO executive director Dr. Carl Bonham.
UHERO released a summer forecast for tourism in May that did not anticipate the number of arrivals the state is now seeing.
“Our optimistic forecast had us at about 75% of 2019 arrivals in the month of June, I think we’re going to hit at 81%,” Dr. Bonham explained.
According to the Department of Business Economic Development and Tourism, Hawaii Island and Oahu are seeing more daily visitors in June compared to 2019.
“If you look at the advanced bookings, all of the islands, with the exception of Oahu, have bookings for 2021, summer and fall that are either on par with or exceed 2019 bookings,” Bonham added.
He said the return of Japan visitors is uncertain due to the Olympics and their slow vaccination rollout, but Oahu could see a big jump in Australian and Canadian visitors soon.
UHERO anticipates a slowdown in the fall as Americans go back to work and school and eagerness to travel drops. In October 2019, the state saw 800,000 visitors.
“Instead of being at 80% of 2019 levels, we’ll probably be at 90, maybe even 95%,” Bonham added.
Maui County is already feeling overwhelmed. On Friday, June 25, Mayor Michael Victorino said he was meeting with airline executives to see if they would voluntarily limit flights to Kahului and was meeting with the Department of Transportation about gate issues because Kahului Airport “is over-capacity.”
According to flight data, 54 flights arrived from the U.S. mainland to Kahului on Saturday, June 26, and 12 of those flights landed within 20 minutes of a competing airline from the same cities.
“It’s unfortunate that we are being hit with so many travelers at one time,” said Sen. Lynn DeCoite (D) Molokai, East Maui. “I do agree that we should stagger those flights all because at this point, it’s really up to the airlines to try and cut back at the same time those cutbacks also come back with cutbacks of our employees or jobs and so forth.”
The Hawaii Department of Transportation released the following statement on Saturday:
We appreciate the return of jobs and other economic benefits of the return of air travel to Kahului Airport (OGG). Flight schedules and gate assignments have been made through July and OGG has the capacity to handle the scheduled traffic. The Hawaii Department of Transportation will continue to work with our airport stakeholders to manage gate and other operations as efficiently as possible.
HDOT recognizes the importance of educating visitors coming through OGG and we are working with the Hawaii Tourism Authority to distribute flyers and post signage in support of this.