HONOLULU (KHON2) — Packed beaches, traffic, busy shopping centers and limited parking is a sign pre-pandemic life has returned on Oahu.
While tourism numbers haven’t reached 100% pre-pandemic numbers, it’s close, and many people felt it over the holiday weekend.
[Hawaii news on the go–LISTEN to KHON 2GO weekday mornings at 7:30 a.m.]
Hawaii was averaging close to 30,000 trans-Pacific arrivals during the two days leading into Memorial Day weekend. According to tourism officials, part of that included inter-island travelers too.
John De Fries, Hawaii Tourism Authority CEO, said Hawaii doesn’t expect the Asia market to come back through the third quarter especially with Japan’s quarantine requirements still in place, but he said he wasn’t expecting this many visitors so soon.
“If we just look at the United States market, you’ve got pent up demand, people have been basically locked in for the past year in one form or the other,” he said.
De Fries said stimulus checks, plenty of air seats and high vaccination rates were also bringing people to the islands.
He said another factor was the CDC’s recent announcement issuing travel advisories to usually competitive markets like Asia, Europe, India, Canada and Mexico.
“When that much of the international destinations are not accessible or being cautioned against, Hawaii becomes even more attractive to the visitor,” De Fries added.
“If I go back six, seven months, I would have expected greater competition from other international destinations that Hawaii would then be forced to compete against, and that’s not happening at I think the rate that most of us in the industry thought it would be,” he said. “Now I should also caution that at some point, those destinations will open, and Hawaii will be required to compete but going through the summer, in the third quarter, the United States is going to be the principal driver of visitor arrivals.”
KHON2 asked De Fries if he’s noticed a different type of visitor.
“The visitor from Japan is much more active in the retail sector in particular, as is China and Korea and I’m anxious for that segment of the business to return because so many of the Waikiki hotels and various operations have a major clientele that come from Japan and depend on that business. So until that returns, there are those that are still sluggish in their ability to reopen on time,” he said.
“And I will say one thing; it is not the same America, you know, America has been through a lot the last year, the pandemic, unfortunately, at times, became politicized,” De Fries continued. “And even the basic fundamentals of having to wear a mask, and in certain states not requiring it, you know, you’ve got a cross section of people and values and perceptions to deal with. I’m confident that our local community, and in particular, those who work in our hotels and visitor industry enterprises will be able to meet that challenge, but it will indeed be a challenge.”
He believes US travelers alone could hit the 28,000 daily arrival mark this summer just like pre-pandemic years.
Lieutenant Governor Josh Green said he’s not surprised by the quick come back and anticipates more people this summer.
“There’s a huge demand to come to Hawaii because it’s been safer,” he said.
Currently, 51 percent of Hawaii residents are vaccinated. Green says Governor Ige is looking at a 50, 60 and 70% vaccination reopening plan which could include fewer travel restrictions.
“We push towards 60% of our whole state vaccinated and we can relax travel rules more significantly. It will make a big difference. That’s about 2 to 3 weeks away it looks,” he said.
“As we head to July 1, then we’ll be pushing towards 70% statewide and when we get there, there will be significant discussions about dropping most of the restrictions, masks indoors and travel restrictions and so on. I think that’s the point which the Governor will be feeling pretty safe,” Green added.
The lieutenant governor said the state still has about 300,000 to 400,000 shots to go.
“The sooner we get there, the sooner we can all go back to normal,” he said. “Because it’s going to be difficult to convince the governor to relax those restrictions much further until we hit those milestones.”