Thursday, Sept. 28, 2023|
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Despite stronger than expected visitor numbers in 2021, state officials on Wednesday said 2022’s tourism outlook is hazy.
John De Fries, president of the Hawaii Tourism Authority, said during a livestreamed interview Wednesday that on Tuesday the state had a little less than 32,000 new arrivals, roughly 85% of prepandemic levels.
According to data released by the state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism, about 6 million visitors arrived in the state between January and November of this year, more than double the same period in 2020, but less than in 2019 by 36%. Together, those visitors spent a total of $1.18 billion in Hawaii, about 11% less than in than 2019.
“The airline industry, nationally, has had to deal with the staffing issues that many of the businesses in Hawaii are dealing with,” De Fries said. “So, it’s a very fragile situation as we go into the holidays, but every indication appears to be that this will be a strong holiday season moving into the first quarter.”
But a confluence of factors has made it harder to predict how the visitor industry will fare beyond that, De Fries said.
At the heart of those factors is the resurgence of COVID-19, fueled by the highly virulent omicron variant. Every surge, De Fries said, has wide impacts across Hawaii’s primary market, with the latest being no exception.
De Fries said HTA has discussed the possibility of adding a booster requirement to the state’s Safe Travels program, but stopped short of actively endorsing such a requirement, instead deferring the decision to state health experts.
“The less restrictions, obviously, the better for business,” De Fries said. “But … I’ll support the decisions (the governor and mayors) have made, including that they haven’t imposed new restrictions at this time.”
Meanwhile, cruise travel is expected to return to the state next month, with Norwegian Cruise Lines to resume interisland cruises on Jan. 22.
De Fries assured that NCL has taken measures to mitigate the spread of COVID on its ships.
First, he said, NCL will resume operations at only 60% capacity, with plans to gradually increase capacity depending on the progress of the pandemic. Each ship also will have isolation rooms for travelers who become infected.
De Fries said NCL also has renovated its ships’ ventilation systems to better circulate fresh air through their decks. But he acknowledged that the omicron surge is a particularly delicate situation, and said the state Department of Transportation is prepared to turn away ships at the harbors if necessary.
De Fries also acknowledged residents’ concerns about visitors invading residential areas to stay at illegal vacation rentals. However, he noted that such options might appear even more attractive to visitors starting next year, with the counties free to impose an additional 3% transient accommodations tax on top of the existing 10.25% state TAT.
Hawaii County’s 3% TAT goes into effect Saturday.
“None of us in the industry were happy about it, but it is the new reality,” De Fries said, adding that there will be some early uneasiness among travelers who arranged to visit the state months or years in advance, only to be hit with an unexpected 3% price hike.
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