2022 is shaping up to be a good year for Hawaiian tourism. Nearly 5.5 million people have visited the islands so far this year, spending $11.2 billion.
While there were 13% fewer visitors compared to the first seven months of 2019, spending increased by almost 6%.
But what can we expect in the coming months?
“We are seeing slightly fewer seats overall in September compared to 2019,” said Jennifer Chun, director of tourism research at the state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism. “We still have more domestic seats than in 2019, but fewer than in 2021. And we are seeing an increase in international seats. In October, the trend is similar.”
Chun attributes the reduced number of airline seats to changing airline schedules. In 2021, airlines have changed their routes to meet demand from domestic travellers.
The period between peak summer and winter seasons, and vice versa, is referred to in the industry as a “shoulder season.” Historically, there is less demand during the spring and fall seasons.
“Typically for an airline like Hawaiian, during the summer we will be about 90% full,” said Brent Overbeek, chief revenue officer for Hawaiian Airlines. “As we sort of go into the latter part of August, September and late fall, it will generally dip into the mid-80s.”
The DBEDT’s latest economic outlook for the state projects that visitor arrivals will experience a 99% recovery between September and November, compared to the same period in 2019.
Overbeek confirms with HPR that Hawaiian Airlines bookings are strong in the coming months.
“Demand overall, particularly in North America, is holding up well. We are seeing strong circulation within the state.”
Overbeek tells HPR that east coast travelers generally book their flights further in advance than west coast travelers. He says east coast travelers book a flight at least four months in advance, while west coast passengers will book closer to three months.
In Kaʻanapali, a hotel sees strong guest bookings as fall approaches.
“We are anticipating fall over 2019,” said Kaʻanapali Beach Hotel Marketing Director John White. “So we’re looking at a nice solid 85% for every month through the rest of this year.”
White tells HPR that bookings in the coming months are higher than what his hotel has historically had in shoulder seasons. He notes that the term “shoulder season” could lose its traditional meaning, especially in 2022.
“It continues through the summer, into the holiday season,” White said.
While visitor demand remains strong in the coming months, industry professionals are still keeping a close eye on potential challenges.
For White, that means paying attention to airline ticket prices and the number of airline seats coming into Maui. Like many others in the Hawaii tourism industry, he pays attention to inflation and supply chain issues. But his biggest concern is staffing.
However, many tourism professionals are interested in Japan.
“Japan was about 20% of our business before the pandemic,” Overbeek said. “So this return, for good, is really important to us as a company. And while we’re flying into Japan a bit, we definitely want to increase our footprint there.”
Changes to Japan’s COVID travel restrictions take effect September 7. The daily number of arrivals to the country will increase from 20,000 to 50,000. Travelers can also bypass the country’s COVID testing requirements if they have received three COVID injections.
Editor’s Note: Hawaiian Airlines is a corporate subscriber to Hawaiʻi Public Radio.