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Tourism industry expects a busier than normal fall season

sharonang from Pixabay

2022 is shaping to be a good year for Hawaiʻi tourism. So far, nearly 5.5 million people have visited the islands this year, spending $11.2 billion.

While there were 13% fewer visitors compared to the first seven months of 2019, spending rose nearly 6%.

But what can we expect in the coming months?

"We do see quite a few less seats overall in September compared to 2019," said Jennifer Chun, director of tourism research at the state Department of Business, Economic Development, and Tourism. "We still have more domestic seats than we did in 2019, but less than 2021. And we do see some increases in international seats. Looking into October, it's a similar pattern."

Chun attributes the fewer air seats to changing schedules for airlines. In 2021, airlines shifted their routes to accommodate the demand of domestic travelers.

The time between the peak summer and winter travel seasons, and vice versa, is what's known in the industry as a "shoulder season." Historically, there is less demand during the spring and fall seasons.

FILE - A Hawaiian Airlines flight arrives at Līhuʻe Airport on Kauaʻi.
Hawaiʻi Public Radio
Hawaiʻi Public Radio
FILE - A Hawaiian Airlines flight arrives at Līhuʻe Airport on Kauaʻi.

"Typically for an airline like Hawaiian, during the summer we'll be about 90% full," said Brent Overbeek, chief revenue officer for Hawaiian Airlines. "As we get into kind of the latter part of August, September, and into end of fall, that typically will dip into the mid-80s."

DBEDT's latest economic outlook for the state predicts visitor arrivals will make a 99% recovery between September and November, compared to the same period in 2019.

Overbeek confirms with HPR that Hawaiian Airlines bookings are strong in the coming months.

"Demand overall, particularly in North America, is holding up well. We're seeing strong travel within the state."

Overbeek tells HPR that travelers from the East Coast typically book their flights farther in advance than travelers from the West Coast. He says East Coast travelers book a flight at least four months in advance, while West Coast passengers will book closer to three months.

In Kaʻanapali on Maui, one hotel is seeing strong guest bookings heading into fall.

"We're pacing ahead for the fall compared to 2019," said John White, marketing director at the Kaʻanapali Beach Hotel. "So we anticipate a good solid 85% for all the months through the balance of this year."

White says bookings in the coming months are higher than what his hotel has historically seen in shoulder seasons. He notes the term "shoulder season" may be losing its traditional meaning — especially in 2022.

"It's just continuing right on through from summer, all the way into the festive season," White said.

While visitor demand remains strong in the coming months, industry professionals are still keeping a watchful eye on potential challenges.

Passengers on Japan Airlines flight 177 arrive at Ellison Onizuka Kona International Airport on Tuesday, Aug. 2, 2022.
Erin Khan/Hawaiʻi Tourism Authority
Passengers on Japan Airlines flight 177 arrive at Ellison Onizuka Kona International Airport on Tuesday, Aug. 2, 2022.

For White, that means paying attention to airfare prices and the number of air seats entering Maui. He, like many in Hawaiʻi's tourism industry, is paying attention to inflation and supply chain issues. But his largest concern is staffing.

However, many tourism professionals are paying attention to Japan.

"Japan represented about 20% of our business pre-pandemic," Overbeek said. "So that coming back, in earnest, is really important for us as a company. And while we're flying a bit to Japan, we certainly want to increase our footprint there."

Changes to Japan's COVID travel restrictions go into effect Sept. 7. The daily number of arrivals to the country will increase from 20,000 to 50,000. Travelers can also bypass the country's COVID test requirements if they have received three COVID shots.

Editor's note: Hawaiian Airlines is a corporate underwriter of Hawaiʻi Public Radio.

Casey Harlow was an HPR reporter and occasionally filled in as local host of Morning Edition and All Things Considered.
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