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Maui visitor arrivals top March 2020

Numbers show tourism industry inching closer to pre-pandemic levels

Pacific Whale Foundation photographer Rob Owen hangs souvenir boarding photos at Lahaina Harbor on April 15 before the return of passengers of an eco-adventure tour. He said proceeds from the sales support the foundation’s research, education and conservation programs. Owen said he also does underwater portraits and teaches people how to take whale photos during whale season. The latest tourism data shows the industry inching closer to pre-pandemic levels as visitor arrivals to Maui in March increased from the same time last year and nearly doubled from the previous month. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

Maui island for the first time since the pandemic saw its visitor arrivals increase over the same time last year — and nearly double from the previous month, according to the Hawaii Tourism Authority’s monthly visitor report released Thursday.

Likely bolstered by spring break travel from the U.S. Mainland, Maui had 170,750 visitors in March, a 35.6 percent increase over March 2020 when arrivals numbered 125,943. While travel, especially by cruise ship, was starting to decline at the time as COVID-19 cases spread, visitor arrivals didn’t come to a halt until the end of the month when Hawaii imposed quarantine restrictions.

Travel to Hawaii has picked up in recent months but has still remained far below pre-pandemic levels. Last month marked the highest volume of visitors to Maui since tourism reopened in October. After discouraging travel to Hawaii and mandating a 14-day quarantine on arrivals starting March 26, 2020, the state relaxed trans-Pacific travel rules Oct. 15 as a way to boost tourism. Arrivals rose from 23,103 in October to 63,740 in November and 90,605 in December before dipping to 66,925 in January. March’s count was nearly double February’s visitor total of 92,608.

Maui County also continued to rival Oahu when it came to visitor numbers in March. The state’s most populous island pre-pandemic would typically attract double the visitors to Maui in any given month. Maui County had 175,005 visitors (including 2,590 on Lanai and 1,665 on Molokai), compared with Oahu’s 206,942. Hawaii island had 82,687 and Kauai saw 15,133 arrivals.

Hawaii island and Maui island were the only two islands in March to see a surge in year-over-year visitor arrivals.

However, the state as a whole rose 1.1 percent from the same time last year to 439,785 in March of this year.

“This was the first time in a year where visitor arrivals were up, but the year-to-date arrivals were still significantly down” by 60.1 percent, HTA said in the report.

Likewise, Maui island’s year-to-date arrivals from January through March were down 45 percent to 330,283. Molokai was down nearly 76 percent to 3,477. Lanai was down about 65 percent to 5,148.

When it came to spending last month, Maui island had the highest per person per trip spending in the state — $1,933 — and the highest per person per day spending in the state — $217.

The Valley Isle also saw the highest total expenditures by air — $330 million.

Travelers were staying longer on Maui this March compared with the same time frame last year, when the pandemic began to unfold locally.

March’s total visitor days increased 43.5 percent year over year to 1,519,941 for Maui island. Oahu, which had the most visitor days in the state, increased half a percent year over year to 1,757,207.

The average length of stay increased 5.9 percent year over year to 8.9 days for Maui, second to Kauai, which averaged 10.35 days.

Statewide, most of the March visitors were from the U.S. West (296,117, an increase of 47.4 percent over March 2020) and U.S. East (133,162, an increase of 10.8 percent). Also, 1,051 visitors came from Japan (a decrease of 97.7 percent) and 326 visitors came from Canada (down 98.8 percent). There were 9,129 visitors from all other international markets (down 75.9 percent).

Maui saw a record-breaking year of tourism in 2019, when arrivals reached more than 3 million, leading to calls for better infrastructure, tourism management and resource protection. That year in March, visitor arrivals hit 276,732 for Maui island.

Concerns over tourism and safety during the pandemic era have sparked a recent outcry from community members. A video showing unmasked tourists in large groups in Kaanapali went viral in February and a grassroots beach demonstration against overcrowding was held in Wailea in March.

Also, two proposals to mitigate overtourism, including a measure to designate half of beach parking for residents and a bill to place a moratorium on hotel building permits, are being mulled by Maui County Council.

HTA also recently released its hotel and vacation rental performance reports for March. Highlights include:

• Maui County hotels in March reported better performance compared with the same time frame last year and led the counties in revenue per available room and average daily rate. Maui County’s March room revenue was $228 (up 18.7 percent), with the average daily rate rising to $466 (up 10.9 percent) and occupancy at 49 percent (up 3.2 percentage points).

• Maui’s luxury resort region of Wailea had room revenue of $362 (up 26.0 percent), with average daily rate at $802 (up 27.2 percent) and occupancy of 45.2 percent (down 0.5 percentage points).

• The Lahaina/Kaanapali/ Kapalua region had room revenue of $180 (up 7.1 percent), average daily rate at $379 (up 3.2 percent) and occupancy at 47.4 percent (up 1.7 percentage points).

• Maui County’s hotel room supply was 392,800 room nights (down 0.3 percent).

• Hawaii island hotel room revenue grew to $157 (up 26.7 percent), with average daily rate at $317 (up 17.6 percent) and occupancy at 49.6 percent (up 3.5 percentage points).

• Oahu hotels continued to lag with room revenue of $74 (down 20.1 percent), average daily rate at $184 (down 16.1 percent) and occupancy at 40.4 percent (down 2.0 percentage points).

• Kauai hotels earned room revenue of $62 (down 53.3 percent), with average daily rate at $200 (down 31.7 percent) and occupancy at 30.9 percent (down 14.3 percentage points).

• Maui County had the largest vacation rental supply of all four counties with 237,700 available unit nights (down 17.2 percent) and unit demand of 160,800 unit nights (down 19.6 percent), resulting in 67.6 percent occupancy (down 2.0 percentage points) with an average daily rate of $282 (down 6.4 percent).

• In March, the total monthly supply of statewide vacation rentals was 587,300 unit nights (down 32.6 percent) and monthly demand was 365,700 unit nights (down 34.4 percent). That resulted in an average monthly unit occupancy of 62.3 percent (down 1.7 percentage points) for March, which was nearly 20 percent higher than the occupancy of Hawaii’s hotels at 43.1 percent.

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

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