Hawaii has been making steady progress toward the 10 million annual visitors mark for the last several years, and it looked as though 2018 would be the year the Aloha State finally eclipsed the number.
When the figures were tallied, though, the state welcomed 9,954,548 visitors in 2018, according to preliminary data from the Hawaii Tourism Authority. And, if not for some headline-grabbing natural disasters, Hawaii most likely would have passed 10 million.
All of the four most-visited islands saw increased visitor traffic in 2018, led by Kauai, except for the Island of Hawaii, where the total visitor number fell by 44,733 from 2017 to 1.7 million.
The visitor total represents a 6% increase from the 9.4 million visitors who came to the islands in 2017. Additionally, visitors spent $17.82 billion while in Hawaii in 2018, a 7% increase from the previous year, and the average daily spend per visitor was up 1% to $201.
Hawaii Island saw a drop in tourism once activity from Kilauea Volcano surged in the spring, closing Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and sending rivers of lava flowing through the southeastern tip of the island. Prior to that point, Hawaii Island was growing its tourism sector rapidly. New direct air routes from Japan and the U.S. mainland dramatically increased capacity, and Hawaii Island led all of the state's counties in visitor growth from 2016 to 2017 with a 14% increase.
Kauai had the strongest year in terms of visitation and revenue growth in 2018, bringing in $2 billion in visitors spending (10% more than 2017) from 1.4 million visitors (+8%). Oahu and Maui also saw increases in both total visitors and visitor spend.
Total air seats to the islands were up 8% in 2018 compared to the year prior, with the only regional decline in capacity seen from Asian markets other than Japan.
Visitors from every region surveyed, U.S. West, U.S. East, Canada and Japan, all reported lodging expenses increasing in addition to a significant rise in the percentage of visitors staying in rental homes, ranging from 23% (U.S West) to 45% (Japan).