Last year was almost Armageddon for many industries that rely on tourism.
It was also a huge black hole for the actual places where people go on vacation. Places like Hawaii.
But now the Aloha state is having a major comeback, with hotels at 49% at the end of April, up from 12% occupancy at the same time last year.
It’s still fairly low, but it’s a lot higher than during the worst of the pandemic last year, and it’s great news for local businesses, airlines, tour providers, restaurants and all the other industries who rely on those vacation dollars.
Welcome to Waikiki!
Waikiki beach is swarming with surfers again and Hawaii’s tourism industry is roaring back to life.
Why? The vaccine is one reason, as travel restrictions loosen up and people head out from chilly weather and isolation to enjoy some sun and sand. Restaurants are packed and beachside stands have laughing vacationers enjoying a hot dog or some ice cream.
It’s almost like things are back to normal and the awful COVID nightmare we’ve been pushed down into is finally starting to come to an end.
Hawaii hotels were about half full occupancy by the end of April, compared to 57% across the US nationally, which is very good numbers for the hospitality industry.
Part of the reason that Hawaii has struggled to get back on its feet actually has nothing to do with the US: it’s because Japanese tourists who make up a huge chunk of its visitors have had major travel restrictions and stopped coming as much.
However seeing numbers like half full last month compared to about 12% full a year before is definitely cause for optimism. And it’s always good to report on some good news.
my family trip to Hawaii is booked, everyone is vaccinated, i’ve been working out consistently-.. IM REAAADY!! 😍🥳
— alana ann 🐱🧚🏽♀️ (@flowers4lana) April 27, 2021
Is Hawaii a Sign of Better Days Ahead?
Hawaiians say they notice the improvements and all the people coming from the US and Japan back into the state, with car rental companies running out of vehicles and all the local businesses experiencing a big boost.
Hawaii managed to keep its COVID numbers quite low during the pandemic, but they were also pretty strict including a two week quarantine. That’s part of why tourists stayed away. Now with the lifting of restrictions people can get back to enjoying life.
Americans coming into Hawaii just need a negative COVID test and then they don’t have to do the 10-day quarantine, which is making it a lot easier for folks to come in and enjoy some hot weather and cool dips in the ocean.
Businesses have already been hurting badly in Hawaii, with companies like the duty-free shop DFS Group laying off hundreds of workers last year at the airport and at its large store near Waikiki beach.
In 2021 the impact of the slowdown is still going to hit as well, regardless of the current mini-comeback, and at least 20,000 hotel jobs are going down the drain. And even though things are getting better, it’s still nowhere even near to pre-pandemic levels.
As a tourist from Maryland said in the trendy area of Waikiki, there aren’t as many international visitors as years before when he came dozens of times to enjoy Hawaii in the past.
“Kalakaua Avenue used to be so crowded at night, with tourists packed elbow to elbow. There seems to be fewer international tourists,” Nick said.
The truth is that Hawaii is a sign for cautious optimism, but it’s far from an “all clear” or “mission accomplished.”
Sure restrictions are being lifted and airlines are increasing their voyages to Hawaii, but we’re still a long way from where we were before this disastrous pandemic, and the long-term impact on businesses who lost mountains of money last year is going to be huge regardless of this year starting to pick up.