Tovin Lapan
Tovin Lapan

Hawaii saw more visitors in the first quarter of 2019 than the same period in 2018, but those travelers didn't stay quite as long as they did the year before and spent less money while in the Islands, newly released data from the Hawaii Tourism Authority shows.

Visitor arrivals to the Aloha State increased 2.6% through the first three months of the year, to 2.5 million, but total visitor spending declined 2.4%, to $4.52 billion.

Spending among visitors from the U.S West was relatively flat and was down less than 2% among U.S. East travelers, but the international markets all declined more significantly. While Japanese tourist spending fell 3% and Canadians spent 2% less, spending from all other international markets decreased approximately 9% compared with a year ago.

While the total number of visitors increased, the average length of stay shrunk, resulting in roughly flat total visitor days through the first quarter.

Hawaii Island struggled the most in Q1, as Big Island tourism continues to drag from a series of body blows from Mother Nature in 2018. Spending by visitors to the island of Hawaii through the first three months of the year is down 13%, and arrivals have fallen 9%.

Powerful lava- and ash-spewing eruptions from the Kilauea volcano and a series of hundreds of earthquakes began in early May on the island and continued into summer, and tropical storm season brought Hurricanes Hector, Lane and Olivia after that. Activity on the island has largely returned to normal, including in the main tourist areas of Kona and Hilo, but after several years of record numbers the island welcomed 50,000 fewer visitors in 2018 than it had in 2017, and those numbers have continued to lag in the new year.

Hawaii Tourism USA has been augmenting its Hawaii Island efforts with increased coverage in marketing campaigns and other initiatives. A new video campaign was created, titled "There is Never a Better Time to Visit Hawaii Island Than Now," and a new segment of the "Hawaii Rooted" campaign was filmed, introducing Hawaii's people and unique aspects of the Big Island while also promoting responsible travel.

At its March meeting, the Hawaii Tourism Authority board of directors voted to approve reallocating $2.5 million to support new marketing efforts for Hawaii Island tourism in response to the early 2019 numbers.

Arrivals and spending were also down on Kauai, but less drastically: a 4% drop in visitors and a 1% dip in spending. On Oahu, both spending and arrivals increased, while arrivals on Maui were up 3% while spending slumped 6%.

During the first quarter of 2019, the average daily rate at Hawaii hotels remained flat compared to 2018, according to the Hawaii Hotel Performance Report issued by the HTA. Occupancy dipped during that period to roughly 81%, a nearly 3% decline from 2018, with revenue per available room dropping 3% to $236.

On the hotel front, Hawaii room revenues fell 5%, to $1.13 billion, compared to $1.18 billion in revenue through the first three months of 2018. There are several renovations ongoing at large resorts in the first half of 2019, resulting in 74,300 fewer available room nights (down 2%) in the first quarter, and approximately 190,500 fewer occupied room nights (down 5%) compared to a year ago. In the Marriott portfolio alone, there are renovation projects at the Sheraton Waikiki, Sheraton Kauai, Waikiki Beach Marriott, and Westin Maui. Of the four most visited islands, hotel occupancy fell the furthest on Kauai (9%) and Hawaii (7%).

Still, Hawaiian hotels had the highest RevPAR and ADR, and fifth-highest occupancy rate among U.S. markets in the first quarter. When compared with international sun-and-sand destinations, Hawaii's four main islands all had average daily rates in the top 10: Maui (fifth at $428 ADR), Kauai (sixth, $305), Hawaii (seventh, $285), and Oahu (ninth, $236). Maldives topped the list with an ADR of $737.

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