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Even the tourism industry thinks Hawaii is seeing more visitors than it can handle

Published: Jul. 26, 2021 at 9:46 AM HST|Updated: Jul. 26, 2021 at 11:03 AM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Visitor numbers are at pre-pandemic levels ― and sometimes slightly above that ― but the tourism industry hasn’t ramped up to handle the volume, officials said.

“I think we often underestimate how injured the system of tourism got during that time (the pandemic),” said John De Fries, president and CEO of HTA.

“And so what you end up with is a system that once could take 220 volts, is now only capable of taking 110 volts. But the market is still at 220.”

Over the weekend, Hawaii saw about 30,000 people coming in daily.

De Fries said the high tourism numbers are partly because airlines are redirecting what would have been international flights to Hawaii since few people are traveling outside of the United States.

He expects this pent-up demand to cool off this fall.

But for now, HTA just has to work with hotels, restaurants, the state Department of Transportation, state Department of Health, and other agencies to try to manage visitors.

Hotels in the islands are now operating at about 80% capacity, according to the Hawaii Lodging and Tourism Association.

Association president and CEO Mufi Hannemann said he supports more user fees and cracking down on illegal vacation rentals to attract a “quality visitor.”

“We haven’t even started to open up conventions, weddings, banquets, so there’s still more to do in terms of attracting quality visitors here,” Hannemann said.

“And that’s what I think we’re looking to do. And certainly we want the residents to be a part of that.”

And while restaurants in tourism hotspots are happy they’re busy, they’re also stretched thin.

“Most of the restaurants in Waikiki have an hour, two-hour wait every single night,” said Hide Sakurai, president and CEO of SKY Waikiki. ”It’s also very hard to hire right now.”

De Fries said that residents often ask him whether the state could cap visitor arrivals. He said that’s not in the state’s jurisdiction since people are allowed to travel freely.

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