HONOLULU(KHON2) — The day before Thanksgiving is typically one of the busiest travel days of the year, and travelers said their flights were crowded.

“Full, yes, very full,” said Chayanas Vivasa, who is visiting with her husband and two kids from Los Angeles.

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Richele Racurma, who just arrived on a flight from San Diego, said there were a few spaces left on the plane, but it was still pretty full.

Nearly 21,000 visitors had already been screened by 2 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 24, and thousands more were expected to arrive Wednesday night. Many said they have been waiting a long time for this moment.

Racurma, who traveled with about 20 coworkers, said it was the first group trip they have taken since the COVID pandemic started.

“We’re excited. We’re excited to show the island to everyone else. For some of them, it’s their first time,” Racurma said.

“We waited two years for this,” Vivasa explained. “We didn’t plan to travel the day before Thanksgiving, but it just turned out this way.”

Mufi Hannemann, president of the Hawaii Lodging & Tourism Association, said they have definitely noticed an increase in hotel reservations.

“Guests are coming in, local residents are traveling to visit their ohana; so, the numbers are brisk, like we’ve seen previous Thanksgiving seasons,” Hannemann explained.

More than 30,000 travelers are expected to arrive in Hawaii Wednesday. However, Department of Transportation spokesperson Jai Cunningham said there is still a long way to go to get back to what it was pre-coronavirus pandemic.

“It definitely has picked up a bit,” Cunningham said, but I don’t know if we found a new normal. I think it’s strong to stabilize itself as far as what we’ve seen coming in and going out, but I don’t know what that baseline wants again.”

Hannemann said hotels are projecting 80 to 90% occupancy for the holiday with Kauai and Hawaii island seeing the best numbers.

“But we’re still far from where we were in 2019,” Hannemann said. “You can’t call it a full recovery because international travel is not back yet. It’s not expected to come back and with any big numbers, perhaps, until May of 2022. And we’re not gonna have our first large convention gathering to early January.”

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Though there is still a long way to full economic recovery, Hannemann said the bump in travel is expected to help struggling restaurants and retailers.