Maui County hotels were two-thirds occupied in August, according to a report issued today by Hospitality Advisors in Honolulu.
The report could be seen as a glass half-full rather than half-empty, since every month earlier this year was even worse.
An occupancy rate of 66.2 percent is nothing to celebrate, but it is an improvement from all-time lows that fell to 55 percent in May.
Operators did it by slashing prices. The rack, or standard, rate for a room on Maui was $232, a drop of $56 from the year before, when occupancy was a comparatively anemic 69.1 percent. The visitor industry downturn is now well into its second year.
Revenue per available room (RevPAR) sank by nearly one quarter, from $199 in August 2008 to $153 this August.
August was the 18th straight month of declining hotel occupancies. Occupancies were already declining when Aloha and ATA airlines folded at the end of April 2008, and business sank fast after that.
Joseph Toy, president of Hospitality Advisors, pointed out that three years ago, Hawaii's summer occupancy percentages were in the mid-80s. For June-August this year, they slumped to an aggregate of 68.1 percent.
Presumably things could have been even worse had not hoteliers aggressively cut prices. But the cost has been steep.
Total hotel industry revenue (which includes food, beverage and retail sales) was $238 million less this summer than last summer and $374 million less than three summers ago in the record year of 2006.
Oahu, which has had some action in the Japanese and convention markets, did better than the Neighbor Islands, with 78.3 percent occupancy. That was not far behind the 80.4 percent the year before, but it came at the cost of steep discounting.
Not as steep as on Maui, but steep. Average room rates on Oahu were down $28 to $149, and RevPAR was down $25 to $117.
Oahu luxury hotels had the best experience in the state, 83.3 percent occupancy, although to get there operators had to cut rack rates $44 down to $201.
Wailea, the priciest resort in the state, slashed rates far more, from $483 to $367. This kept occupancy at last year's level, 69.7 percent, but dropped RevPAR $80 to $255.
The next most expensive resort, Kohala on the Big Island, discounted far less in August but already significantly reduced its prices relative to other luxury resorts. Rack rates there were dropped from $287 to $260, and occupancy slid from 66.6 percent to 61.3 percent.
Overall, Big Island occupancy fell from a low 63.5 percent last August to a very low 57.2 percent this August.
Kauai also fell, from 74.2 percent to 65.8 percent. Like the Big Island, operators there were more cautious about discounting, dropping posted rates only $26 to $191.
However, rack rates in today's conditions reveal little. Most resorts have added all sorts of freebies, like breakfast or rounds of golf or activity credits, to enhance the value of vacation packages.
Hospitality Advisors breaks lodging into five categories: luxury, upscale, midprice, economy and budget. In general, luxury rooms sold better and economy and budget rooms less well in August.
Maui has more luxury rooms than any other county, and it doesn't have any rooms that Hospitality rates as budget.
The voluntary survey covers 159 properties offering 47,083 rooms, or 83.2 percent of all lodging rooms in properties with 20 rooms or more. It does not include time shares, youth hostels, single family vacation rentals and other small properties.
* Harry Eagar can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.