Maui closes in on Oahu for visitor arrivals in January

Valley Isle had less than half of Oahu’s visitors at same time last year

An American Airlines jet approaches Kahului Airport on Feb. 23. As tourism has slowly returned to the islands, visitor numbers to Maui have grown, putting the island not far behind Oahu, which prior to the pandemic typically led the state by a long shot. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

Despite attracting less than half the visitor volume of Oahu during the same timeframe last year, Maui’s visitor numbers in January were not far behind the state’s most populous island.

There were 66,925 visitors on Maui and 78,967 visitors on Oahu in January, according to the most recent Hawaii Tourism Authority data. Last January, Maui visitor arrivals totaled 242,472 while Oahu, which typically leads the state, was more than double at 512,621.

On Maui, however, visitor spending was higher than on Oahu. Visitors spent $172.9 million on Maui and $129.9 million on Oahu in January. Maui also topped the state in per person per day spending at $213, compared with Hawaii island at $133, Oahu at $122 and Kauai at $109.

Visitors tended to spend the shortest amount of time on Maui; the average length of stay in January was about 12 days for Maui, 13 days for Oahu, 15 days for Hawaii island, and 23 days for Kauai.

Community members have continued to express concerns over the rise in cases on Maui as travel has increased among both residents and visitors. Mayor Michael Victorino, however, said Monday that restrictions will stay the same.

“We know what we need to do, our visitors know what they need to do, our businesses are doing a great job — I go to many of these businesses — I don’t think we need to up the ante at this point,” he said.

Meanwhile, the COVID-19 positivity rate in Maui County continues to top the state. As of Tuesday, Maui County was at a 3.4 positivity rate and a daily average of 18 new cases over the last two weeks. Honolulu County’s positivity rate was at 0.9 percent, with a daily average of 23 new cases. Hawaii County was at 0.4 percent and averaging two new cases while Kauai County was at 0.2 percent and averaging zero new cases.

State Department of Health data indicates that the majority of Maui County’s cases remain driven by community spread.

January recorded 758 cases for Maui County, according to the DOH. Of those, 743 have a known risk factor, with 91 percent — or 676 cases — tied to community spread. Travel-related cases were 43 for residents and 24 for visitors.

After discouraging travel to Hawaii and mandating a 14-day quarantine on arrival in March of last year, the state relaxed trans-Pacific travel rules on Oct. 15 as a way to boost tourism. Visitors to Maui were 2,581 in September, 23, 103 in October, 63,740 in November and 90,605 in December, according to HTA reports.

Statewide, the numbers still remain far below pre-pandemic rates. In January, visitor arrivals dropped 80 percent to 171,976 compared with the same timeframe a year ago. Most of the visitors came from the Mainland. About 3,000 were from Canada and approximately 1,000 from Japan. Other international markets numbered around 5,000.

The state reduced the mandatory travel quarantine from 14 to 10 days in December, though passengers still had the option to bypass quarantine with a valid negative COVID-19 test from a trusted testing partner through the state’s Safe Travels program.

All trans-Pacific travelers participating in the pre-travel testing program were required to have a negative test result before their departure to Hawaii.

The state Legislature is currently considering unifying and relaxing Safe Travels program rules across all four counties.

In early December, Kauai temporarily suspended its participation in the state’s Safe Travels program, making it mandatory for all travelers to Kauai to quarantine on arrival. Starting Jan. 5, however, Kauai rejoined the Safe Travels program for intercounty arrivals, allowing intercounty travelers who have been in Hawaii for more than three days to bypass the quarantine with a valid test result. Also starting Jan. 5 on Kauai, trans-Pacific travelers were given the option of participating in a pre- and post-travel testing program at a “resort bubble” property as a way to shorten quarantine time, according to the report.

* Kehaulani Cerizo can be reached at kcerizo@mauinews.com.


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