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Local officials say Maui recovery heavily tourism dependent

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(The Center Square) – Earlier this month, the Hawaii Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism, and the County of Maui Office of Economic Development convened the Maui Economic Recovery Commission to discuss recovery priorities, projects, and guidance for economic growth that align with the vision of the local community, but to a large extent, such priorities will depend on the health of the tourism industry.

DBEDT released Tuesday its tourism report for December 2023, which revealed declining visitor expenditures for the fifth consecutive month.

Year-over-year, the trend is much the same, with total visitors to the Hawaiian islands down by 1.3% and visitor spending down by 1.2% from December 2022 to December 2023. While percentages are low, in dollars and cents, it translates to a $1.96 billion shortfall.

Despite the Maui wildfires and an economy recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic, Hawaii showed a 4.4% growth in visitor arrivals and a 5.5% growth in visitor expenditures for December 2023, while the average length of stay decreased by 3%.

“Due to strong numbers during the first seven months of the year, 2023 ended with positive growth in both visitor arrivals (+4.4%) and expenditures (+5.5%),” James Kunane Tokioka, Director of DBEDT, said.

How is Hawaii faring compared to pre-pandemic 2019 measures? Although December 2023 had an estimated 10% fewer visitors than in 2019, the total visitor spending was 11.6% higher.

Governor Josh Green sees this as a positive. “The data shows reason for optimism that travel to Hawaii is continuing to recover since the pandemic and since the Maui wildfires. While the decision to reopen West Maui to visitors was difficult, the numbers show that visitor industry revenue is helping the people of Maui,” he said.

The biggest spenders visiting Hawaii are Americans, with U.S West visitors spending $850.6 million in December 2023 – 8.2% less than the previous year, and U.S. East visitors spending $573.2 million, – 7.6% less than in December 2022.

Of foreign visitors, the biggest spenders were Canadians, who spent $149.2 million in December 2023, $4.2 million more than in December 2022.

Japanese visitors showed the largest increase in visitor spending – jumping from $57.8 million in December 2022 to $106.0 million in December 2023 – an increase of $48.2 million.

Overall in 2023, total visitor expenditure rose to $20.78 billion, compared to $19.70 billion (+5.5%) in 2022 and $17.72 billion (+17.3%) in 2019.

Hawaii had 9,644,519 visitors compared to 9,233,983 visitors in 2022 but was down 7.1 percent when compared to 10,386,673 visitors in 2019.

“For 2023, Oahu, Molokai, Lanai, Kauai, and Hawaii Island showed increases in total visitor expenditures when compared to 2022,” Kunane Tokioka said. “Although expenditures for Maui were down -1.9 percent year-over-year, we are optimistic that this will improve in the coming months.”

“Based on the current airline schedules, we will continue to see the U.S. market weaken and international markets increase in 2024,” he noted.