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Maui sees increase in visitor spending in May, report says

Latest data show fewer visitors than prior to pandemic, though industry still on the rebound

The three-deck motorized catamaran Calypso Maui passes the back side of Molokini while cruising along the shoreline of Ahihi Kinau on the morning of June 1. While Maui saw fewer visitors in May (247,280) than in the same month in 2019 (251,665), visitor spending increased from $400.4 million in May 2019 to $454.3 million in May of this year, according to the latest visitor arrivals report released Thursday. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

Hawaii’s visitor industry continued to see a gradual recovery in May, mostly fueled by increased spending by travelers from the Mainland and Canada.

A total of 776,375 visitors came to Hawaii in May, representing a 91.6 percent recovery from May 2019, according to preliminary visitor statistics released by the state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism on Thursday.

Though this recovery rate is lower than that of April (96.3 percent), it is the second-highest recovery rate since March 2020 amid the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the report.

While the number of tourists that visited Maui in May (247,280) was slightly lower than May 2019 (251,665), people are spending more. Visitor spending on Maui was higher at $454.3 million compared to $400.4 million in May 2019.

Through the first five months of 2022, there were 1.1 million visitors to Maui, an 8 percent decline compared to the 1.2 million visitors seen in the first five months of 2019.

However, for the first five months of 2022, total visitor spending was up 5 percent at $2.24 billion compared to $2.13 billion in the first five months of 2019.

“These visitors infused dollars into our economy that circulated in our shops, restaurants, accommodations, activities, attractions and community-based festivals and events,” Hawaii Tourism Authority president and CEO John De Fries said in a news release. “Additionally, it supported small businesses while providing ample career opportunities for kama’aina families throughout Hawaii.”

Oahu saw the most visitors statewide last month at 416,091, but it’s still about 18 percent less than the island saw in May 2019 at 508,088 visitors. Like Maui, visitor spending was still higher in May at $732.1 million compared to $691.1 million in May 2019.

More people (115,243) visited Kauai in May than in May 2019 (112,106). Visitor spending was also up 18 percent at $177.3 million compared to $149.9 million May 2019.

Hawaii island didn’t experience much of a change. There were 139,953 visitors in May compared to 139,696 visitors during the same month in 2019. However, Hawaii island saw a nearly 20 percent jump in visitor spending last month at $184.5 million compared to $154.2 million in May 2019.

Overall, year-to-date visitor arrivals across the board are 15 percent below 2019 levels, but visitor spending is 2.3 percent above, according to the report.

Visitors spent a total of $1.56 billion while in Hawaii in May, which is 10.6 percent more compared to May 2019 when they totaled $1.41 billion.

Though U.S. visitor arrivals have been higher than the same month in 2019 for 13 consecutive months, the second half of this year is seeing “a slowdown” in trans-Pacific flights.

Still, the industry is anticipating a steady return of international visitors, specifically from Japan. Japanese visitor arrivals at 7,167 in May were at the highest level since April 2020.

Most of the Japanese visitors in May were repeat visitors (82.7 percent) while 17.3 percent were first-time visitors to the islands, according to the report.

Through the first five months of 2022, there were 40 percent less visitors from Canada at 175,500 compared to 296,362 visitors in the first five months of 2019.

Canadians spent $408.6 million in the first five months of 2022, compared to $606.7 million during the same time frame in 2019. However, Canadian spending was up in May to $55.4 million, compared to $48.3 million spent in May 2019, while daily spending also increased from $170 per person in May 2019 to $204 per person in May of this year. They are spending more on lodging, transportation, shopping and food expenses, according to the report.

From the Mainland, there were 4,317 scheduled flights from the U.S. West region and 346 flights from the U.S. East region during the month of May — both an increase from 2019. The 453,989 visitors from the U.S. West spent $782.7 million in May, up 38.8 percent from the $564 million they spent in May 2019. The 222,144 visitors from the U.S. East spent $550.3 million in May, up 40.2 percent from the $392.4 million spent in May 2019.

Officials cautioned that even with increased visitor spending, the state should keep tabs on the global impacts of fuel costs and staffing shortages.

“We must remain vigilant because of the global uncertainty of rising fuel costs, reduction in airline routes, staffing shortages, inflation, cost of goods and the currency exchange rates, which are contributing factors in a traveler’s decision on their destination of choice,” DBEDT Director Mike McCartney said. “Let’s not take for granted and rely on past traveler choices for the first time or return visitors coming for a Hawaii vacation.”

Instead, the industry should be concentrating efforts on a “regenerative stewardship program,” such as taking care of natural resources, refreshing events and attractions, and investing in healthy communities, which will make the visitor industry “stronger and more vibrant,” McCartney said.

* Dakota Grossman can be reached at dgrossman@mauinews.com.

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