They keep on coming

Maui visitor numbers keep climbing each year with over 3 million expected in 2019

Arriving passengers await transportation at Kahului Airport on Friday afternoon. The number of visitors to Maui continues to climb to record-setting numbers year after year with the total expected to exceed the 3 million mark in 2019. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

Given the way visitor numbers have grown each year, arrivals to Maui could crack 3 million in 2019.

Visitor arrivals to Maui by air rose to 2,914,122 in 2018, a 6.2 percent increase over 2017, while visitor spending increased to $5.07 billion, an 8.3 percent increase over 2017, according to Hawaii Tourism Authority preliminary statistics released Thursday.

On Molokai, visitor arrivals did not rise significantly, but visitor spending did. In 2018, visitor arrivals by air totaled 59,059, a 1 percent increase over 2017, while visitor spending hit $41.1 million, a statewide best 18.8 percent increase over 2017. On Lanai, it was the opposite — visitor spending went up just 3.4 percent to $109.4 million in 2018, while visitor arrivals by air rose by a statewide best 14.5 percent to 73,684 in 2018.

While Molokai had the lowest visitor arrivals and expenditures in the state, the island did see the greatest increase in spending per person per day in the state — up 15.8 percent to $143.90 in 2018. Lanai, meanwhile, had the highest rates in spending per person per day at $430.80, but it was a statewide worst 11 percent decrease from 2017.

Spending and arrivals also went up statewide. A total of 9,954,548 visitors came to Hawaii in 2018, an increase of 5.9 percent over the previous year. Visitors to Hawaii last year spent $17.8 billion, an increase of 6.8 percent over 2017. More people were flying in from nearly every Mainland market — visitor arrivals from the U.S. West region increased by 9.6 percent, as did arrivals from the U.S. East region (7.9 percent), Canada (2.7 percent) and all other international markets (2 percent). Arrivals from Japan, meanwhile, decreased slightly, by 1 percent.

On average, there were 242,629 visitors in the Hawaiian Islands on any given day in 2018.

Hawaii is expected to surpass 10 million visitor arrivals by air in 2019 — an increase of 1.8 percent over 2018, according the state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism’s tourism forecast. Visitor spending is also expected to rise 4.2 percent to $19.1 billion.

Based on past record-setting years, Maui could surpass 3 million visitor arrivals in 2019. From 2016 to 2017, they increased by 110,757, or 4.2 percent. From 2017 to 2018, visitor arrivals increased by 169,128, or 6.2 percent. Last year’s numbers are less than 100,000 shy of 3 million arrivals.

Sherry Duong, executive director of the Maui Visitors and Convention Bureau, said that “discussions are ongoing through a number of government agencies on how to address the perceived impact of tourism on Maui in terms of striking a balance between visitor experience and the resident quality of life.”

“Good examples of this effort to enhance the visitor experience with a positive community impact include the Airbnb bill that was passed last year, as well as the Haleakala reservation system being put into place,” Duong said.

When asked how the Hawaii Tourism Authority and Maui Visitors and Convention Bureau are changing their promotion tactics to deal with the rising tourism, Duong said that the bureau recently launched a new “Kuleana” educational video series focusing on cultural appreciation, ocean safety, ocean healthy and astute renting. They’ve been airing the videos on social media platforms, resort websites and hotel in-room channels.

But Duong added that the fourth-quarter numbers of 2018 also point to “signs of softening in visitor arrivals and expenditures” on Maui.

Visitors who flew in to Maui spent $448.3 million in December, a 6.8 percent decrease as compared to December 2017. On Molokai, visitors spent $3.8 million, a 33.7 percent decrease from December 2017, while visitors to Lanai spent $10.8 million, a 35.8 percent decrease.

In December, visitor air arrivals to Maui totaled 255,295, a 1.2 percent decrease from December 2017. Visitor air arrivals to Molokai, meanwhile, decreased by 18.1 percent to 4,930, and on Lanai they decreased by 12.3 percent to 5,792.

Statewide, visitor spending declined to $1.6 billion in December, a decrease of 3.5 percent from December 2017. Total visitor days increased by 1.8 percent, as did arrivals by 3.4 percent, but average daily spending declined to $190 per person, a 5.2 percent decrease compared to December 2017.

* Colleen Uechi can be reached at