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Hawaii’s tourism industry attracted nearly 6.8 million visitors last year to post a 150% gain over the prior year.
The preliminary count, tallied by the state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism in a recent report, topped 2020’s total of 2.7 million visitor arrivals but remained down 35% from a record 10.4 million visitors who came to Hawaii in 2019 before the coronavirus pandemic upended the biggest industry in the state.
Visitor spending in Hawaii last year totaled $13 billion, down 27% from $17.7 billion in 2019. DBEDT did not collect comparable information on visitor spending in 2020 because of COVID-19 restrictions.
The average time visitors spent in Hawaii last year was 9.6 days. That compared with 10.6 days in 2020 and 8.7 days in 2019.
An absence of anything close to normal volumes of international visitors represented much of the reduced visitor arrival volume last year compared with 2019.
For instance, 24,232 visitors arrived from Japan last year, compared with 1.6 million in 2019. The next two largest international markets for Hawaii tourism were Canada, from which 86,491 visitors arrived last year compared with 540,103 in 2019, and Australia, from which 4,481 visitors arrived last year compared with 287,995 in 2019.
Travel to Hawaii from overseas has been inhibited by coronavirus mitigation measures imposed by some countries as well as by Hawaii government rules that changed in December.
As of Dec. 6, passengers arriving on direct international flights were subject to federal U.S. entry requirements, which included proof of a negative COVID-
19 viral test result taken within 24 hours of travel or documentation of recovery from COVID-19 no more than 90 days earlier.
Domestic visitor arrivals to Hawaii last year got close to pre-pandemic volume.
Nearly 6.5 million visitors from the mainland came to Hawaii last year, off just 6% from nearly 6.9 million in 2019, according to DBEDT data.
Domestic passengers could bypass the state’s mandatory 10-day self-
quarantine rule if they were fully vaccinated in the United States or had a valid negative COVID-19 nucleic acid amplification test result from an approved test provider through Hawaii’s Safe Travels program prior to departure.
DBEDT said the last eight months of 2021 had more visitors arriving in Hawaii from the mainland than in the same months in 2019, showing strong demand in the domestic market that continued in December despite the emergence of COVID-19’s omicron variant.
DBEDT reported that 753,670 visitors came to the state in December, up 219% from 236,575 visitors in December 2020 and down 21% from 952,441 visitors in December 2019.
Another bright spot in Hawaii tourism in December was visitor spending, which totaled $1.66 billion and was just about 6% short of the $1.75 billion total in December 2019. Part of what made the result close appeared to be higher costs for many things largely stemming from inflation.
DBEDT noted that average spending per visitor per day was $216 in December compared with $198 in December 2019. For all of 2021, the figure was $199 compared with $196 in 2019.
Mike McCartney, the agency’s director, noted in a statement that the emergence of omicron produced a drag on December visitor arrivals that will likely continue through March.
A surge in reported omicron infections has started to subside, and McCartney expressed optimism that Hawaii’s tourism industry will soon benefit.
“As long as Hawaii remains a safe destination we can regain our momentum with visitor arrivals to recover in the second quarter of this year,” he said. “We remain on target to welcoming more visitors in 2022 than we did in 2021.”
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