Tourism leaders are taking a ‘wait and see’ approach as the specter of the omicron variant raises fresh concerns of a recovery in tourism in the first half of 2022, which prior to the emergence of the variant was looming as equal to 2018 .
After falling to virtually zero during the worst days of the Covid-19 pandemic, when a strict quarantine order kept travelers away, passenger arrivals have rebounded in recent weeks to near pre-pandemic levels.
According to the latest available data from the Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism, the seven-day average of passenger arrivals on Dec. 22 was 32,138, about 80% of what Hawaii released during the same week in 2019, which was a record. year.
Jerry Gibson, president of the Hawaii Hotel Alliance, said hotels generally did well over Christmas, although he acknowledged that this year’s holiday season had hardly set any records.
Still, Gibson said, bookings for the first two quarters of 2022 appear to be on par with 2018.
The question is now about the omicron variant. The industry has shifted to a “wait and see” stance, he said, due to “concerns about both omicron numbers and the possibility of flight cancellations”.
Thousands of flights have been delayed or canceled across the United States due to wintry weather and large numbers of pilots and flight crews sickened by the highly contagious variant.
But so far, the cancellations haven’t affected Hawaii much. According to the website flightaware.com, seven flights were canceled today at Daniel K. Inouye International Airport in Honolulu: four by United, two by Alaska and one by Delta. This compared to 1,268 inside, inside or outside the United States as a whole, FlightAware reported.
Hawaii’s dominant carrier, Hawaiian Airlines, has managed to avoid canceling a large number of flights.
“We had a relatively low number of cancellations over the Christmas weekend,” Hawaiian spokeswoman Marissa Villegas said in an email.
The carrier on Friday canceled five flights to nearby islands and a trans-Pacific flight due to staffing shortages, she said. The airline also canceled two neighboring island flights and three trans-Pacific flights on Saturday and one neighboring island flight on Sunday.
Hawaiian accommodated the affected passengers on other flights, she said. The airline did not expect any cancellations on Monday, Villegas said.
Gibson said public officials were in almost daily contact with tourism industry representatives, including leaders from the Hawaii Tourism Authority and the Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau. At this point, the consensus is that the holidays look strong, and while omicron is a concern, there’s no sense any further restrictions are coming.
“We have no indication that there will be any new ones at this point,” Gibson said.
And all of this is good news for businesses that depend on tourists.
“It’s still not what it used to be, but business has definitely picked up,” said Dave Nakatani, manager of Pacific Island Beach Boys, which offers canoe rides and boogie boards for rent on Waikiki Beach.
A week ago, he said, the booth was making around $150 a day. On Wednesday, as the Christmas rush began, it soared to over $1,000.
He hears the same thing from the other renters on the beach.
“Everyone seems to be fine last week,” he said.