Despite the slump in January and February, Hawaii’s visitor industry turned the corner and took off.
Jack Richards, president and CEO of Pleasant Holidays, said that over the past two weeks the company has seen bookings and trips to Hawaii increase by 30%.
“We haven’t seen Hawaii travel demand this strong in over a year,” Richards said. “I thought we would have a U-shaped recovery; it’s v-shaped. January and February were terrible, but we went from zero to 150 mph in two weeks.
Richards said Hawaii saw an increase in travel demand when the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention began requiring travelers coming to the US from international destinations to take a COVID-19 test. .
“The international testing requirement has leveled the playing field,” Richards said.
Richards said Hawaii tourism has also benefited from a surge in vaccine distribution in the United States, which has fueled travel demand.
Across the country, air travel is resuming. On Sunday, the Transportation Security Administration screened more than 1.5 million passengers. TSA spokeswoman Lisa Farbstein said in a tweet: “The last time throughput exceeded 1.5 million was March 15, 2020 – just over a year ago. “
Farbstein said Sunday also marked the 11th consecutive day with TSA checkpoint volume exceeding 1 million.
On Saturday, Hawaii Safe Travels reported screening 28,424 travelers, the most since the pandemic began. Safe Travels began to see a dramatic increase in the number of travelers screened in the second week of March. From March 15 to Sunday, traveler projections topped 20,000 every day except March 16.
Ben Rafter, president and CEO of Springboard Hospitality, said Hawaii’s tourism industry has seen continued upward trends since February.
“While that doesn’t mean everyone connected to the tourism industry will be happy with the year-on-year numbers, it’s a step in the right direction,” Rafter said.
Admittedly, February was still not a month to love for Hawaii’s tourism industry, especially Hawaii hotels. Statewide hotel occupancy in February hit 30.5%, according to STR, a Tennessee-based hotel analytics firm.
Statewide occupancy in February was better than January, when it was just 23.3%. Still, the results were 53.4 percentage points lower than the same time last year, before the pandemic slumped tourism in Hawaii. Even with the improvement, the industry was far from profitable. Most hoteliers require a constant occupancy above 50% to get out of red.
The decline in occupancy in February continued to drive down revenue per available room, which is the amount a hotel earns for each room, regardless of occupancy status. Statewide RevPAR in February was $78.97, still 69.9% lower than the same month a year ago.
One bright spot, however, was that hotels in Hawaii in February were able to fetch a fairly high average daily rate. The average daily rate at Hawaii hotels statewide in February was $258.77, just 16.5% lower than February 2020.
Rafter said hotel performance in February was better in Maui and Hawaii, which tend to attract a higher percentage of North American travelers than Oahu.
Maui’s hospitality industry is promising enough not to lose sight of investors and developers. The AC Hotel by Marriott Maui Wailea announced the opening of a new 110-room, 12-suite hotel in April.
The Maui Planning Commission is also set to hear a story today about expansion plans for the Maui Coast Hotel in Kihei, which include a six-story, 170-room addition and other upgrades. The project is on 4.8 acres at 2239 S. Kihei Road.
The virtual meeting, which begins at 9 a.m., can be accessed on BlueJeans. To watch the meeting or provide a video testimonial, visit maui.bluejeans.com/510100484. To testify in video, register using the chat function. To listen to the meeting or testify by phone, dial 888-748-9073 (toll free) or 408-915-6290 or 408-740-7256 and enter the passcode 510100484.
Kauai hotels, which withdrew from the state’s COVID-19 traveler testing program on Dec. 5 and will not rejoin until April 5, had the worst February hotel performance of any island in the state. . Oahu hotels, which are more reliant on international arrivals, posted the second-worst performance in February.
But members of the Hawaii visitor industry hope the continued easing of government restrictions, if any, will continue spring break travel gains well into this year and beyond.
The industry suffered a minor setback on Monday when House Bill 1286, which would have created a consistent statewide policy to allow vaccinated travelers to enter the state without quarantine, was postponed by three committees. However, the measure may still have a chance later in the session, as a Senate bill (SB 266) has been amended to include House Bill 1286.
Hawaii Lodging & Tourism Association President and CEO Mufi Hannemann said Monday the measure was “worthy of consideration and moving forward.”
“The measure would motivate people to get vaccinated and make it easier for local residents to travel between the islands,” Hannemann said. “Vaccination is the key to reviving our economy.”
Lt. Governor Josh Green has supported lifting the inter-island COVID-19 testing requirement and quarantines, particularly if they are related to vaccines — possibly by April 1 or April 15. He said he was aiming in May to remove trans-Pacific travel restrictions for fully vaccinated travelers.
“If that happened, it would be a game-changer for tourism in Hawaii,” Richards said. “We receive a lot of bookings for trips in the same month. We believe people have cabin fever and book travel as soon as they get their shot. »
Richards said the stimulus checks that were handed out to individuals and families in the latest round of federal aid are also likely helping to bolster the travel industry.
Similarly, Springboard’s Rafter said direct stimulus payments to tourism businesses have helped bolster the visitor industry.
“As a small local owner, most of our hotels were eligible,” he said. “Preparing them to keep moving forward and getting back to a full squad is hugely helpful.”
Performance hall operators, movie theater promoters or producers, independent theater operators, museum exhibitors and talent representatives in Hawaii also received good news on Monday from the Small Business Administration.
The SBA said live event companies affected by the pandemic can begin applying April 8 for the $16 billion Venue Operator Grant Fund, which was included in COVID relief legislation. -19 passed by Congress and signed into law in December.
“For museums, concert halls, performing arts centers, independent cinemas and other live venues in Hawaii, help is here,” said U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) , a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee in a statement. “This pandemic has been particularly brutal for businesses that depend on being able to gather in person, so this new funding will be a big help.”
For more information, visit Schatz’s online resource guide at schatz.senate.gov/coronavirus/small-business/live-venues.