KAILUA-KONA — This year’s 55th annual Merrie Monarch Festival drew a surge of visitors to the Big Island using the home sharing website Airbnb.
During the festival, Airbnb hosted 2,290 East Hawaii guests and 2,510 West Hawaii guests for a total of 4,800 visitors, the highest recorded Airbnb arrivals for Merrie Monarch. Last year, it hosted 4,105 guests.
“I was booked out six months in advance (of the festival),” said Shawn Pila, an Airbnb host in Hilo.
Hawaii locals from Honolulu and Kailua-Kona were among the largest groups of Airbnb guests during the festival.
Many Airbnb travelers also voyaged to the Big Island from Seattle, San Francisco, New York City, Toronto, and even Seoul.
Airbnb provides visitors with an alternative to hotels in tourist areas for what it bills as an authentic, often more affordable experience.
The typical host earnings from both sides of the island were $315 during the festival.
Ross Birch, executive director of the Island of Hawaii Visitors Bureau, said the influx of visitors for the Merrie Monarch festival is not just profitable for those lodging visitors.
All local businesses — from food vendors to businesses associated with Hawaiian culture reap economic benefits from the event, he said.
But Birch stressed the primary takeaway of the Merrie Monarch Festival is not financial, but cultural.
“The major impact is on culture and perpetuation of hula and allowing Hawaii to showcase its premier asset,” he said.
Pila, born and raised in Hilo, attended the Merrie Monarch festival for the first time last year while shooting the event for KITV/K5/HNN.
“It was kind of a wake-up call to connect with my heritage, Hawaiian heritage,” Pila said.
Pila said he enjoys hosting via Airbnb during Merrie Monarch to share Hawaiian culture with people from all over the globe.
“It is truly a privilege to share my home and the experience of the week’s festivities with guests who otherwise probably wouldn’t have a place to stay,” Pila said in a recent press release.