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Domestic arrivals to Maui at summer’s end remain strong

Slower travel season anticipated but air seats show domestic increase

Travelers pass through the Kahului Airport’s rental car facility in August. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

While total Maui arrivals in August were just short of pre-pandemic levels, domestic travelers to Maui exceeded 2019 numbers for the second consecutive month, according to data from a state report released last week.

Overall, there were 232,208 visitors to Maui in August 2021 compared with 273,638 visitors in August 2019, according to preliminary visitor statistics from the state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism.

Domestic arrivals reached 206,322 in August, however, compared with 196,735 over the same timeframe in 2019, which was a record-setting year for Hawaii arrivals, DBEDT data showed. August’s strong domestic arrivals for Maui follow the Valley Isle’s all-time domestic arrival high of 286,851 set in July of this year.

For Maui in August, visitor spending was $389.1 million, down 3.9 percent from the $404.7 million spent in August 2019.

The average daily census on Maui was 60,187 visitors in August 2021 versus 64,553 visitors in August 2019.

A recent report by the University of Hawaii Economic Research Organization, though, said that since domestic highs in July, visitors have been delaying Hawaii vacations due to the surge in COVID-19 cases and new mitigation measures enacted by the state.

“After the surge in COVID-19 cases, the number of visitors fell sharply, prompted by virus concerns, new preventive measures, and Governor Ige’s request for visitors to delay Hawaii vacations,” the report said.

Tourism’s rebound since travel reopened in October of last year has been spurred mostly by U.S. travelers, with international visitors largely absent from typical visitor data. UHERO predicts that international visitors will begin to return in 2022 and reach more than half of their pre-pandemic level by the middle of next year.

Typically, Maui and Kauai counties receive more domestic travelers than Oahu and Hawaii island, which see larger amounts of international visitors.

Jennifer Chun, DBEDT director of tourism research, said in a Hawaii Tourism Authority presentation Friday that although there are fewer overall scheduled nonstop airline seats to Hawaii, domestic seats have increased across all counties, according to recent data.

While available air seats do not guarantee they are later sold, domestic seats to Kahului were 308,108 in August versus 248,915 in 2019; 271,361 in September versus 197,711 in 2019; and 277,397 in October versus 211,816 in 2019.

International scheduled nonstop seats to Kahului are 22,694 in November versus 21,780 in November 2019, largely due to the return of the Canadian market, Chun noted. In December, international seats to Kahului are 33,104 compared with 26,938 to the same timeframe in 2019.

DBEDT Director Mike McCartney in a news release also highlighted the return of Canada travel.

“We are happy to see flights from Canada increase significantly in August (from two flights in July to 36 flights in August) due to the resumption of Air Canada flights from Vancouver to Oahu and Maui,” he said. “Visitor count from Canada reached 6,154 in August and was the highest since the breakout of COVID-19 in March 2020.”

While Hawaii is not yet at 2019 visitor and expenditure levels, McCartney noted August recovery is at 78 percent in terms of arrivals and about 91 percent in terms of visitor expenditures when compared to August 2019.

Visitors who came in August stayed longer (9.07 versus 8.46 days) and spent more on a per person per day basis ($208.9 versus $191.7) compared with the same month in 2019, he said.

UHERO’s baseline forecast considers adverse economic impacts of the delta variant and its restrictions through the fall. The pessimistic scenario predicts that fallouts could last much longer. An optimistic scenario points to a strong winter season driven by pent-up demand.

DBEDT, meanwhile, expects tourism to slow in September and October, but said in the release that recovery will accelerate in November.

“The easing of the international travel restrictions by the federal government that will be effective in November will help bring more international visitors to our state,” McCartney said in the release.

HTA President and CEO John De Fries said August shows visitor spending and arrivals continued to steadily improve on the strength of the domestic travel market.

“However, until the international travel market returns, Hawaii will not reach the pre-pandemic levels of higher visitor spending that is essential to the state’s economy,” he said in the release. “It is also important to remember that tourism recovery is nonlinear, meaning it ebbs and flows, and softening is anticipated for the traditionally slower fall shoulder season.”

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

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