The pace of Hawaii’s tourism recovery is surprising even the experts

Updated: May. 26, 2021 at 5:29 PM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Hawaii’s tourism recovery is moving ahead of schedule ― even though international tourism has yet to come back in a big way.

The state now expects visitor arrivals to hit 6.6 million this year ― or 64% of arrival numbers from 2019.

Hawaii Tourism Authority President and CEO John De Fries says he didn’t expect the rate of recovery to happen this quickly and attributes it to pent-up demand, progress in pandemic, and additional routes from major airlines.

“It is a pendulum swing,” De Fries said. “Think about it: A year ago we were hovering around zero arrivals trans-Pacific and here we are a year later, having to contend with that kind of snapback at a lot faster rate than we would have anticipated.”

In a new report, the state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism expects domestic arrivals to “fully recover” by the end of this year.

However, international tourism is only seeing a 5% bounce back.

De Fries doesn’t anticipate Japanese arrivals to increase until near the end of 2021 due to the country’s strict quarantine policy.

“So a traveler coming here for an average of a five-day stay having to go home and quarantine for 14 days is not an incentive to travel at this time to the U.S.,” De Fries said.

As the influx continues, the Hawaii Tourism Authority launched a new marketing campaign this week that will be promoted at hotels statewide.

“Malama Hawaii” represents a shift from activity promotion and offers visitors chances to volunteer with local non-profits for a meaningful experience.

“It is designed to cater to people who are much more mindful, who are looking for an authentic experience and authenticity can only be delivered by those who are steeped in our community values, community activity, as well as, cultural expertise,” De Fries said.

“That will become a growing segment of the Hawaii brand growing forward.”

While visitor levels are seeing positive growth, the state anticipates that true recovery to pre-COVID levels won’t come until at least 2024.

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