Why is travel to the Islands down this year?

Christine Hitt

The Maui fires’ impact on the island’s economy is substantial, but the Economic Research Organization at the University of Hawaii reported recently that it “believes spillovers [of economic losses] to the rest of Hawaii will be limited.” 

Yet there are some noticeable changes that one Waikiki hotelier has noticed, and aside from a few cancellations early on, these are not directly due to the fire.

“In the spring, we could already see the industry demand wasn’t as strong as 2022,” said Lynette Eastman, general manager of the Surfjack Hotel & Swim Club. “Now it’s just sluggish.”

Last year, when the domestic market was strong, was the Surfjack’s banner year, Eastman said. The Hawaii Safe Travels program and all Covid travel requirements were lifted that year. But now, people can fly anywhere.

“The domestic market is not the same as it was in 2022 for all of Hawaii. Why? They can travel international,” she said. “We know Americans want to go to Japan. Americans want to go to Mexico. They want to spend their vacations in the U.S. and Disneyland or Disney World, so when that happened in 2023, they went poof, gone. But at the same time, Japanese and Australians did not come back the same [as before the pandemic].”

Eastman also said that the lengthy disputes over the Hawaii Tourism Authority’s destination management and marketing contract probably had a hand in what’s happening now, too. The contract went through two rounds of canceled awards, and wasn’t awarded until May. The contracts just began a few months ago, in June.

“So we’re going into 2023 January with an unknown entity who’s going to be marketing Hawaii. Is it going to be [Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau or the Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement]? That took them six months in 2023, January through June until they figured out what they’re doing … we lost momentum,” she said. 

“Did it affect us? Oh yeah, it had an effect,” Eastman said. “It’s not dismal, but it’s going to take some time.”

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