Shane Nelson
Shane Nelson

Hawaii’s tourism industry received some intriguing initial data about Airbnb’s impact on the state’s economy last week as the preliminary results of a new report by Honolulu-based Hospitality Advisors were released, indicating travelers who use the online vacation rental site spend more per day than guests of any other accommodations category in the Islands.

Airbnb guests spent a total of $353 million across Hawaii in 2015, according to the report, and their average per-person daily spend was $274, which was significantly more than the $230 per day spent by hotel guests, the $166 per day spent by condo guests, or the $138 by timeshare users.

Total trip spending per person by Airbnb guests last year in Hawaii was an average of $1,302, a figure including the costs of not only lodging but also food and beverage, entertainment, shopping and transportation.

Joseph Toy, the president and CEO of Hospitality Advisors, said the higher average per-day spending by Airbnb guests vacationing in Hawaii is likely due to their shorter visits.

“They have a much shorter length of stay, which is 4.7 days on average,” Toy said. “They tend to do quite a bit of activity, and then therefore have higher spending within that shorter time frame.”  

Toy added that it’s common for Hawaii Airbnb users to travel in larger parties.

“A lot of them come as families,” he said. “So they’re looking for quality family time, and there are a lot of activities they end up doing, which drives up their spending as well.”

The Hospitality Advisors report, which was commissioned by Airbnb, is the first of its kind measuring the online vacation rental company’s economic impact on the state. The study revealed that Airbnb has 9,889 listings in Hawaii, but online vacation rental company VRBO offers the most units in the Islands with 18,119 while HomeAway, which acquired VRBO in 2006, has 17,039.

Toy noted that some of the properties may be advertised on more than one online site, and he added that vacation rentals have been a significant part of the Hawaii accommodations economy since the late 1960s.

“It’s always been here, but it’s also largely been an unstructured industry,” he said. “So with the advent of these online rental companies, it provides structure.”

With that structure comes a better understanding, according to Toy, as well as better data from reports like his company’s recent effort, which shed more light on how vacation rental users are spending their money during a visit.

“The interesting thing about the Airbnb guests is they do a lot of community-based spending in the neighborhoods they’re staying in,” Toy said. “I live in Kailua [on windward Oahu], and I have friends who have retail stores, and they are thriving with the vacation rentals we have here. That wasn’t the case 10 years ago, [so many] of the retailers in Kailua are ecstatic about the market.”

Of course, not everybody on Oahu is as thrilled with the vacation rental industry, and a number of vocal community members on the island are growing increasingly frustrated by unlicensed and illegal vacation rentals in their neighborhoods, a local sentiment Toy acknowledged. The island, in fact, has recently bolstered its vacation rental inspection staff.

“It’s certainly been highly publicized here on Oahu that they’re out and about, issuing cease-and-desist-type orders,” Toy said.

Still, as a mature vacation destination, Hawaii welcomes many repeat visitors annually, and Toy indicated that’s likely to mean more vacation rental industry growth in years ahead.

“With high repeat visitors and very experienced travelers, they want to have a more embedded, more authentic, more residential experience,” he said. “So Airbnb fills that niche, where you can get a place to stay where you’re embedded into a neighborhood setting within a community, and you’re understanding more of the fabric of what the island lifestyle is here.”

The idea that Airbnb serves a growing “niche” here in the Aloha State is an important distinction, however. While the estimated $353 million spent across the Islands by Airbnb guests in 2015 is certainly no small sum, travelers who stayed at Hawaii hotels last year spent a total of $8.1 billion, according to Hawaii Tourism Authority estimates.

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