Hawaii hotels are already seeing visitor bookings into 2023

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The sun sets off of Waikiki Beach on the Hawaiian island of Oahu on Saturday, June 26, 2021 in Honolulu, HI. 

The sun sets off of Waikiki Beach on the Hawaiian island of Oahu on Saturday, June 26, 2021 in Honolulu, HI. 

Kent Nishimura/Los Angeles Times via Getty Imag

With the end of Hawaii’s Safe Travels program and the decline of the omicron variant, the number of travelers to the state is increasing and hotel rates are rising.

Pent-up travel demand and limited travel choices due to the pandemic brought 851,406 U.S. visitors to Hawaii in July 2021 — a record all-time high for U.S. visitors. In January, there were 574,183 visitors to Hawaii, up from 171,976 visitors in January 2021, but still down from the 817,600 visitors to Hawaii in January 2019.

Bookings from U.S. travelers are bouncing back to pre-pandemic levels, but bookings from Japan and Korea are still “essentially zero,” according to a quarterly forecast from the Economic Research Organization at the University of Hawaii (UHERO). Japan has long been the largest source for international visitors to Hawaii, but the pandemic significantly reduced those numbers. Close to 1.5 million travelers to Hawaii were from Japan in 2019, compared to 269,402 in 2020.

“In December, U.S. visitors represented nearly 90% of Hawaii tourists,” the UHERO report said. “The number of visitors from Canada has improved since the summer, reaching 5% of all visitors in December and 45% of their pre-pandemic level. Visitors from other international markets remain negligible so far.” 

This may all change as more international restrictions ease.

A busy summer is expected later in the year, and with it more international visitors, according to the Hawaii State Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism’s press release.

Costs for hotels and other accommodations are also increasing — accounting for nearly half of visitors’ expenses. Changes to Hawaii’s vacation rental laws have greatly reduced the number of rentals available, driving up demand and prices.

“Hotel bookings for upcoming stays still lag somewhat behind pre-pandemic levels, but the rapid retreat of the omicron wave bodes well for the future,” the UHERO report continued. “We expect a rise in occupancy rates for both hotels and TVRs (transient vacation rentals) in the next few months.”

Zander Buteux, the head of organic growth marketing at vacation home rental agency VacationRenter, says Hawaii travelers should be prepared for limited inventory and rising prices. He advises not to wait to book or risk facing slim pickings.

“Expect a rush to grab up properties along with skyrocketing prices,” said Buteux. “Hawaii is set to be amongst the most popular destinations once again by the end of 2022. Multiple locations are at risk of having no vacancy for this summer. Even looking ahead to holiday travel, you may be disappointed with options should you delay planning. Honolulu, Kaanapali, Poipu, Kona and Lahaina are already starting to book heavily for the last two weeks of 2022 – with even 2023 slots starting to fill up.”

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