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August visitor arrivals, spending fall short of pre-pandemic times

Visitor arrivals and spending in August remained below pre-pandemic times with the outlook for September appearing bleak as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact Hawaii’s tourism industry.

During August, Hawaii Island welcomed 119,932 visitors, down nearly 24% from August 2019 when 157,544 people visited the state’s southernmost island, according to data released Thursday by the Hawaii Tourism Authority. Nearly 90% of the visitor arrivals in August came through Ellison Onizuka Kona International Airport at Keahole in West Hawaii.

Visitors to the island during August also spent less this year than they did in 2019.

Spending in August was at $187.2 million, down 3.1% from $193.1 million during the same month of 2019.

Statewide, visitor spending in August was down 8.9% from 2019 at $1.37 billion. Visitors arrivals were down 22% to 722,393.

“The August numbers are showing exactly what I kind of expected them to show,” said Island of Hawaii Visitors Bureau Executive Director Ross Birch. “In July, we were actually pacing above 2019 — while we were still below in our arrivals, our total visitors days, length of stay, everything, had increased to where the total spent was a higher amount. But for August, we’ve already seen that switch gears and we’ve seen the drop.”

Birch said that while continued improvement was expected in August based on bookings, the increase in COVID-19 cases across the country attributed to the Delta variant and Gov. David Ige’s Aug. 23 request that travelers curtail nonessential travel to the state to reduce the burden on health care facilities and resources had an impact.

“Once you see the September numbers, you’re going to see a drastic decrease in visitation, which is a direct relation to the governor’s announcement, and his request getting some national media that this isn’t the time to travel,” Birch said. “We’re starting to see the results of that.”

Birch said the island could see the number of visitor arrivals to the Big Island drop below 100,000 in September when data is released by the tourism agency next month.

August visitor arrivals were down nearly 25% from July alone.

“People aren’t realizing what a really a big effect that was,” he said of the governor’s request to restrict nonessential travel. “Typically, we do slow down in September anyway, it is a softer month for us regularly, but we will see the comparison to 2021 September be pretty drastic.”

While Kilauea volcano’s eruption that began Wednesday is expected to draw throngs to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park to witness Pele’s might, it’s unlikely the volcanic activity will have an immediate effect on the number of travelers coming from the mainland.

“There is going to be a lot of immediate visitation from those that are on island and those in the state currently and local residents, but we don’t really expect to see an increase in visitation directly related to (the eruption) from mainland visitors for a few months,” said Birch. “It takes a little time; it’s sort of a trickle down. …

“We won’t see the results of this current activity until most likely November-December at earliest,” he continued.

Should the eruption persist, it could help the island regain some of the traction lost this fall.

“Some of those that had decided to cancel or postpone their trip (because of the governor’s request), this might be the key factor in getting them to come,” he said.

Birch also sees an increase in international travel ahead with the recent announcement that the U.S. will ease restrictions in November for foreigners flying into the country if they have vaccination proof and a negative COVID-19 test.

Travel from Japan, which has occurred throughout the pandemic, should pick up as well. Arrival numbers have been low due to quarantine requirements for those returning to Japan.
Source: Hawaii Tribune Herald

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