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Visitor Spending Still Down Compared to Booming 2019

December 30, 2021, 10:28 AM HST
* Updated December 30, 10:34 AM
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Visitor spending in November was down compared to pre-pandemic year of 2019, but it still blew 2020 out of the water.

According to preliminary visitor statistics released by the Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism (DBEDT) on Wednesday, Dec. 29, total spending by visitors who came to the islands in November 2021 was $1.18 billion.

In November 2019, prior to the global COVID-19 pandemic and Hawai‘i’s quarantine requirements for travelers, visitors spent $1.34 billion in Hawai‘i, meaning 2021’s month was down by 11.5%.

The State of Hawai‘i achieved record-level visitor expenditures and arrivals in 2019 and in the first two months of 2020, in fact.

How 2021 directly compares to 2020 is tougher to estimate. Comparative total spending statistics for November 2020 were not available as data were from U.S. West and U.S. East visitors only. So, November 2020 spending data by visitors from other markets were unavailable because of limited fielding due to COVID-19 restrictions.

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Officials said the report is an indicator that Hawai‘i’s visitor industry is heading in the right direction.

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“Demand for travel to the Hawaiian Islands remains strong, as evidenced by these November numbers,” HTA President and CEO John De Fries said. “While the situation with COVID continues to evolve globally, as more people continue to get vaccinated and boosted, we look forward to welcoming back our international visitors in 2022. The stabilization of the visitor industry continues, and its recovery is an important part of Hawaii’s economy that supports thousands of kama‘āina families.”

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All visitor spending has been down in 2021 compared to 2019.

Through the first 11 months of 2021, total visitor spending was $11.34 billion, a 29% decline from the $15.96 billion spent through the first 11 months of 2019. Comparative year-to-date November 2020 visitor spending statistics were not available, the report stated.

A total of 6,023,827 visitors (+143.7%) arrived in the first 11 months of 2021, more than double the arrival count of 2,471,683 visitors from the same period last year. But total visitor arrivals decreased 36.1% compared to the 9,434,232 visitors in the first 11 months of 2019.

The same trend holds true throughout most the data – 2021 was better than 2020 but still not as robust as 2019. Visitor arrivals is no exception.

A total of 613,391 visitors arrived by air service to the Hawaiian Islands in November 2021, mainly from the U.S. West and U.S. East. In comparison, 183,779 visitors (+233.8%) arrived by air in November 2020 and 809,076 visitors (-24.2%) arrived by air and by cruise ships in November 2019.

The full press release by the DBEDT office is here.

In November 2021, passengers arriving from out-of-state could bypass the state’s mandatory 10-day self-quarantine if they were fully vaccinated in the United States or with a valid negative COVID-19 NAAT test result from a Trusted Testing Partner prior to their departure through the Safe Travels program. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention continued to enforce restrictions on cruise ships through a “Conditional Sail Order,” a phased approach for the resumption of passenger cruises to mitigate the risk of spreading COVID-19 onboard.

Still, the direction seems positive, industry insiders said.

“We are pleased to see Hawaii’s tourism industry’s continued improvement in November,” DBEDT Director Mike McCartney stated. “Visitors from the U.S. markets continued to surpass the 2019 levels with overall U.S. market recovery for the first 11 months at 102.9% for expenditures and 92.8% for arrivals. International visitor recovery was at 7.% during the first 11 months of 2021 with 234,389 international visitors versus 3,064,075 international visitors during the first 11 months of 2019.”

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