“It’s the year of Hawaii,” said Stacy Small, founder and CEO at Elite Travel International and Virtuoso's only Maui-based travel advisor. Travel to the Aloha state has picked up – and that’s expected to continue as Americans seek to explore domestic destinations while international travel remains in flux.
“There’s a lot of requests from East Coast,” Small said, as they’re not deterred from taking longer flights, especially with Europe out of the question. “Hawaii is being put in that ‘well we should go there now’ category.”
The state has already seen an increase in travel demand. Safe Travels Hawaii, which started Oct. 15, had screened nearly 2.3 million travelers in 2021, including nearly 2.01 million visitors. As many as 259,597 people, including 208,362 visitors, came since May 1.
Visitor arrivals to Hawai‘i during March 2021 rose 1.1% compared to a year ago, according to the latest statistics released by the Hawai‘i Tourism Authority (HTA). This was the first time in a year where visitor arrivals were up, but the year-to-date arrivals were still significantly down.
Small told Travel Market Report hotels are back to being busy like a holiday season. “With limited product out here, available space is challenge this year.” She’s already received bookings for as far out as December for the holidays.
Her best advice for fellow advisors, move quickly on bookings and manage clients’ expectations. “With this demand, it’s not going to be a cheap destination.”
Some hotels already getting close to full capacity by mid-summer, with average daily rates soaring. Hawaii Island in March, for example, saw hotel room revenue grow to $157, up 26.7%, with average daily rate at $317% up 17.6%, according to HTA. Overall, occupancy at Hawaii hotels rose to 43% in March, up from about 31% in February and 23% in January, according to data from Nashville-based STR. It was Hawaii’s highest statewide occupancy in the last 11 months of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Adding to the cost, the demand for rental cars surged. A price for a car rental more than doubled at the peak of spring break. Even if clients are unsure about renting a car, Small suggests getting one on the books to prevent from getting in a pinch down the road.
Especially as, in the months to come, Hawaii plans to roll out a visitor program for those who are vaccinated. The Safe Travels Hawaii, the state’s traveler entry program, just opened up to allow for inter-island travel without needed to quarantine. Officials hope to expand it to visitors from the continental United States later in the summer.
Since April 5, 2021, all Hawaiian counties allow qualifying travelers to bypass the mandatory 10-day quarantine with a pre-travel COVID-19 test. Kauai is now allowing travelers and residents to waive the quarantine again. Travelers age 18 or older will need to complete the Hawaii Travel and Health Form. One additional restriction for Maui County visitors is downloading the AlohaSafe Alert App or enabling Google-Apple exposure notifications.
“Most people from the East Coast want to go to two islands; hopefully there can be more island hopping when it opens up with proof of vaccine.”