Hotels see ‘significant decline’ in occupancy rates after Ige request

  • Guests enter the Royal Kona Resort on Thursday. (Laura Ruminski/WestHawaii Today)

  • Hotel guests lie outside by the pool at the Grand Naniloa Hotel in Hilo on Thursday. (Kelsey Walling/Tribune-Herald)

Hawaii Island hotels saw occupancy drop significantly in September following Gov. David Ige’s request travelers hold off on coming to the Aloha State as Hawaii battled a surge in COVID cases.

During September, Hawaii Island’s hotels reported 56% of rooms occupied, down from 73.2% in August, according to data released Wednesday by the Hawaii Tourism Authority. Resorts along the Kohala Coast saw occupancy drop in a similar fashion, from 73.5% in August to 51.6% in September.

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The average daily rate and revenue per available room were also down month-to-month, the data showed.

The average daily rate for a hotel room in September was $306.86 islandwide and $476.26 on the Kohala Coast, down 20.2% and 26.5%, respectively, from August. Revenue per room on the island was down 39% to just under $172, and on the Kohala Coast, revenue dropped nearly 45% to $245.97.

“It’s been a challenge. We did see a significant decline after the governor made his announcement,” said Stephanie Donoho, administrative director of the Kohala Coast Resort Association, which represents properties along the island’s western coast. “We’re talking losses and cancellations in the tens of millions. We had a running figure at one point and we were up to $30 million in losses after the Aug. 23 announcement.”

On Aug. 23, Ige emphatically asked visitors to refrain from visiting Hawaii through October while the state struggled with a surge in COVID-19 cases as the highly contagious Delta variant continued to spread and hospitals exceeded capacity. His request, though not mandatory, appears to have been heard, based upon the hotel occupancy figures, however, the state has yet to release data on the number of visitors who came to the state in September.

Hoteliers are now hoping the governor’s message this week that Hawaii is again open to visitors starting Nov. 1 will be heard just as far and wide.

“We’re grateful that the governor made the announcement on Tuesday that we’re reopened for business. We’re hopeful that that gets amplified in the media,” Donoho said, explaining that the request to avoid travel to Hawaii impacted already-rescheduled group/meeting travel as well.

The industry is also looking forward to the resumption of international travel come Nov. 8 when the federal government will allow fully vaccinated international travelers to visit the U.S. The recovery of international travel to Hawaii Island remains foggy because airlines have indicated they don’t plan to resume direct flights between Kona and Japan until late spring, at the earliest.

“It’s a wonderful light at the end of the tunnel and any light we are glad to be basking in, but we are following closely the actual return of international flights to Kona,” said Donoho.

At the least, Hawaii Island will be ready to welcome foreign travelers when they do return with a new, state-of-the-art Federal Inspection Services facility that was dedicated this week at Ellison Onizuka Kona International Airport at Keahole. The $58.7 million customs facility also ensures a second international gateway into the state in the event of a disruption at the main point of entry at Daniel K. Inouye International Airport in Honolulu.

Statewide, during September, Hawaii hotel occupancy was at 55.2%, down from 73.4% in August. The average daily rate and revenue per available room were also down month-to-month. The daily rate for a hotel room in September was $304.32, down 14.3% from the month prior. Revenue per room was down 35.6% to just under $168. Maui County hotels led the state with occupancy of 59.2% in September, according to the Hawaii Tourism Authority.

“We are encouraged to see occupancy levels trending high as we head into the holiday season,” said Fairmont Orchid General Manager Charles Head. “The strong booking pace we’ve observed indicates that guests are really looking forward to celebrating year-end festivities on the beautiful island of Hawaii. It remains a priority for our property to continue enforcing stringent health and safety standards, along with promoting responsible travel practices, as we have a deep regard for the wellbeing of our guests and a great deal of respect for this land we call home.”

According to the Hawaii Tourism Authority, September’s survey included 144 properties representing 46,094 rooms, or 85.4% of all lodging properties and 86% percent of operating lodging properties with 20 rooms or more in the Hawaiian Islands. On Hawaii Island, there were 15 properties representing 4,760 rooms.

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The agency has yet to release its report on the performance vacation rentals in September. In August, 63.5% of Hawaii Island’s vacation rental units were occupied. Statewide, vacation rental occupancy was at 60.8% that month.

Email Chelsea Jensen at cjensen@westhawaiitoday.com.

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