Sunday, April 19, 2015

Surging Tourism on Hawaii Island

Hawaii Island tourists on a cruise
Merrie Monarch is over in Hilo and the spring break season has come to an end.  This time of year on Hawaii Island the beaches are mostly empty and the tourists and part-time residents are thinning out;  but not this year.  This year there has been no end to the crowds, traffic, and beaches packed with tourists.

The Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) forecasted a record-setting year of visitor arrivals across Hawaii for 2015. They attribute the increase to more flights to the islands from the US mainland.  Hawaiian Airlines reported that they transported more than 887,000 people to Hawaii in March, a 7% increase from March of last year. HTA reports that visitors to Hawaii are up 8% from the West Coast and 9.8% from the East Coast. 

Usually our condo complex is empty by mid-April. This year it is as crowed as it was at Christmas time.  Every condo has a visiting family, the traffic is the heaviest we have ever seen, and the nearby stores and restaurants are packed.  Though we hear many visitors speaking German, Italian and eastern European languages, most of the visitors are from North America speaking English.  Surprisingly, the large number of Japanese tourists we see this time of year are not here.  Every evening we sit on the crowded beach and watch families, primarily from the US, throwing balls, snorkeling, running, playing in the sand, and enjoying the beach with seemingly endless energy. 

Having a huge surge of visitors is a boon to Hawaii Island.  The island has limited job opportunities and an improvement in the tourist industry on the island would not only provide more jobs but hopefully increase pay for the mostly minimum wage service workers.  On the other hand, the hotels, restaurants, and tour companies are not staffed for the current demand.   We are seeing overwhelmed workers having a difficult time keeping their cool with endless lines of impatient people wanting to get on with their vacations.

If visitors to Hawaii Island have a great time, they will likely return.  Hawaii Island is less densely populated per square mile than Oahu, Maui, and Kauai with average home prices 50% lower.  Returning visitors could ultimately increase island real estate prices which have taken a big dive since 2008 and improve the island economy.