© 2023 Hawaiʻi Public Radio
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

The busy summer travel season is already underway for Hawaiʻi tourism industry

Halekulani_Pool Sunset.jpg
Courtesy of Halekulani
Halekulani hotel in Waikīkī

Memorial Day weekend is widely considered the unofficial start of summer in the U.S. But for the Hawaiʻi tourism industry, it's already underway.

"Looking at the scheduled seat data from the airlines, we’re seeing levels of service that are approaching 2019 levels," said Ilihia Gionson, spokesperson for the Hawaiʻi Tourism Authority.

That's welcome news for both the state’s tourism industry and state lawmakers, who anticipate an influx of tax revenues from visitor spending.

But for one Waikīkī hotel, this summer — and the rest of 2022 — is still about recovery.

"Our view in simple terms has been, both experientially and looking forward, 2020 was the initial crisis year, 2021 was a transition year, and 2022 is the initial recovery year. And I see 2023 as a full recovery year," said Peter Shaindlin, chief operations officer for the Halekulani and Halepuna hotels.

The Halekulani reopened last October after a nearly two-year renovation. Its sister property, the Halepuna, remained open. Both hotels faced challenges because most of their traditional guests are from Japan and Australia.

Although there was anticipation for a surge of Japanese travelers during the "Golden Week" holiday, Shaindlin told HPR it wasn't near the turn out as prior years.

"The good news is it's a very gradual, but steady, ramp up," he said. "It really was the beginning of the door reopening with Japan."

Like the rest of the tourism industry, Shaindlin says he anticipates more Japanese visitors returning around the middle of summer.

"It’s very significant to us, for sheer business reasons to begin with because it does constitute a very high percent of our annual sales and business volume. Having said that, another lesson learned from the pandemic experience has been that we’ve been compelled, more so than ever before, to work constructively and innovatively to further diversify our market mixes," Shaindlin told HPR.

However, the currency exchange rate between the Japanese yen and the U.S. dollar may play a role. It’s currently 130 yen to $1.

"We’re starting to see that the pent-up demand, or more romantically put, the bridle-unbridled enthusiasm and passion that the Japanese have for Hawaiʻi in the long-term is starting to overcome and overpower to a certain significant extent, at least, initially the challenge of the currency itself," he said.

While excitement is building for the return of Japanese travelers, HTA’s Gionson says most of the expected arrivals this summer are from the continental U.S.

With this summer's visitor numbers expected to be comparable to 2019, he says the authority anticipates its tourism management efforts to go into effect.

"We talk a lot about how much tourism is too much tourism. But that’s a very broad way to look at it. A lot of times, it's how many people are too many people at one specific place at one specific time," Gionson told HPR.

The authority hopes residents will see a difference this summer with new initiatives such as reservation systems and visitor education.

Editor's note: The Halekulani is an underwriter of Hawaiʻi Public Radio.

Casey Harlow is an HPR reporter and occasionally fills in as local host of Morning Edition and All Things Considered. Contact him at charlow@hawaiipublicradio.org or on Twitter (@CaseyHarlow).
Related Stories