Merrie Monarch draws Airbnb travelers islandwide

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KAILUA-KONA — Big Island visitors traveling via the popular home sharing website Airbnb this past week for the 54th Annual Merrie Monarch Festival were expected to generate $5.2 million in economic activity through guest spending and host earnings, according to Airbnb.

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KAILUA-KONA — Big Island visitors traveling via the popular home sharing website Airbnb this past week for the 54th Annual Merrie Monarch Festival were expected to generate $5.2 million in economic activity through guest spending and host earnings, according to Airbnb.

That’s a 44 percent increase over the $3.6 million generated by Airbnb users during the same time period last year, according to company data.

The company’s data suggests increased use of the site for travelers coming to the Big Island for the festival. Airbnb also reported increased numbers in arrivals to the island for the festival with arrivals this year numbered at 4,726, up 72 percent from 2016.

Of this year’s arrivals, 2,444 were booked in East Hawaii, with 2,282 in West Hawaii.

Only 488 arrivals, or about a tenth of the total arrivals, were specifically in Hilo, but the company’s data says arrivals to Hilo showed a spike in arrivals coming the week of Merrie Monarch compared to the previous and following weeks.

Fifty arrivals to Hilo, for example, came from Honolulu, an increase from just 11 the preceding week. Bookings from Honolulu currently sit at 14 for this week, the data said.

Arrivals also spiked this week from Wailuku, Maui — up to 13 this past week from zero — as well as Tokyo and Vancouver.

The data suggests a continuing trend last seen during the 2016 Ironman World Championship.

From Oct. 7-9, 2016, when Ironman took place, the company reported 1,900 arrivals to West Hawaii, a 90-percent increase from the year before.

Arrivals to specifically Kailua-Kona also saw a large increase growing from 270 arrivals in 2015 to 500 last year.

Arrivals coinciding with Ironman weekend were estimated to bring in over $1.2 million in economic activity for the island.

While Airbnb suggests a massive multi-million-dollar impact on the island economy, it’s difficult to put that exactly in context of the Merrie Monarch Festival’s overall economic impact.

Organizations like the Hawaii Tourism Authority and Hawaii Lodging and Tourism Association were unable to provide a figure for the festival’s anticipated economic impact and representatives for the Island of Hawaii Visitors Bureau and the Hawaii Island Chamber of Commerce referred to a press statement by the Hawaii Tourism Authority from four years ago in which HTA estimated the event generated $1.42 million in visitor spending for the state.

Ross Birch, executive director of the Island of Hawaii Visitors Bureau, said the weeklong festival generates significant interest in the island, “fueling desire and demand for travel.”

“It also generates a positive economic impact not only for the town of Hilo, but for businesses across the entire island,” he said.

Dale Suezaki, board chair of the Kona-Kohala Chamber of Commerce, also said visitor spending, while spiking in Hilo, spreads throughout the island.

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“Merrie Monarch fans venture to many parts of the island throughout the week and with hotels, restaurants and rental cars sold out in East Hawaii – it can only be good economic news for the entire island,” Suezaki said.

Email Cameron Miculka at cmiculka@westhawaiitoday.com.

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