HONOLULU (KHON2) — Hawaii’s sunny skies can be quite the draw for those on the mainland dealing with blizzard conditions, but the economic conditions are not as bright right now. So, hotels are turning to local residents to close out the year on a high note. 

The beaches in Waikiki are bustling with tourists like Gwenda Hatcher, who traveled from Arizona to celebrate her honeymoon and spend the holidays. Hawaii was her top choice for travel. 

Get Hawaii’s latest morning news delivered to your inbox, sign up for News 2 You

Hatcher said, “It was basically close but still tropical for us. So, I like beaches. So, that’s why I wanted to come to someplace that was warm and had water.”

Compared to pre-pandemic times, hotels are not as full. The Outrigger Waikiki Beach Resort General Manager Steve Miller said they are usually over-sold during the festive season. 

“We didn’t quite experience that this year,” Miller said. “I think there’s a few factors for that. I know when you’re looking at the value of the dollar in some of the countries [and] the pandemic increase in hospitalizations right now, so there’s a couple of factors that have made it less busy. But, we’re still doing extremely well.”

The Hawaii Tourism Authority tracked an eight percent drop in occupancy rate between November 2022 and 2019. Although Hawaii hotel revenue statewide exceeded 2019’s by more than 20 percent, hotel rooms are costing more. 

University of Hawaii Manoa Shidler College of Business Professor Jerry Agrusa said hoteliers want higher spending visitors and that having some rooms unoccupied can prevent worker burnout.  

Agrusa said, “We have fewer tourists but spending more money, and that’s what the objective was in 2019.”  

Still, the Japanese visitor market, a highly desired group of tourists, remains slow to return.

Miller said, “We’ve had two trips to Japan in the last month, so we’re staying very close to our loyal customers. And, we can’t wait to come back; but right now, the travel is a little bit off.”

Kamaaina rates are usually blacked out during the holidays; but due to the room availability, local residents can catch a deal. 

Miller said, “We have phenomenal prices; we give 50 percent valet parking. We waive the resort service fees, and we just love it when locals can come in here and be proud to be in the center of Waikiki beach.”

Kamaaina are currently making up about 10 percent of the guests at the Outrigger Waikiki Beach Resort. 

Visitors from the West Coast continue to be a strong market for Hawaii hotels, and hotels are expanding those marketing dollars to colder areas of the country like the Midwest. 

Get news on the go with KHON 2GO, KHON’s morning podcast, every morning at 8

Travel industry experts are now looking at the end of 2023 for a stronger return of international travelers to Hawaii, but a significant variable will be how the value of the dollar stacks up to foreign currencies.