KAILUA-KONA — Hawaii Island’s natural beauty and seemingly endless opportunities for adventure have earned it a spot among TripAdvisor’s top destinations in the United States.
The state’s southernmost and largest island — which has seen robust growth in tourism over the past four years — rounded out the annual Travelers’ Choice awards list at No. 10.
“Life on the Big Island boasts natural beauty and adventure, from the heights of Mauna Kea to black sand beaches to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, and a famous local plate of fresh poke,” TripAdvisor wrote when announcing the awards last week.
Joining Hawaii Island among the top U.S. destinations was Maui at No. 2 and Oahu at No. 4.
“It’s nice for us to creep up on them,” said Craig Anderson, vice president of resort operations at Mauna Kea Resort on the South Kohala Coast, noting the designation is a tremendous honor for the island. “We love our sister neighbor islands, but I think it’s about time the Big Island gets the respect it deserves.”
The naming of Hawaii Island as a top visitor spot is likely to fuel even more tourism to the island and state on the heels of a record-breaking 2017 and an already strong start to 2018.
Last year, 9.38 million visitors came to the state, surpassing the 2016 record of 8.9 million visitors by 5 percent. Visitor spending also reached new levels in 2017, with vacationers dishing out $16.78 billion across the islands, according to the Hawaii Tourism Authority.
Hawaii Island also notched records with the largest increases in the state for visitor spending, visitor days and arrivals year-over-year.
In 2017, the number of visitors arriving on island increased 13.7 percent to 1.76 million and the amount they spent jumped 14.7 percent to $2.4 billion when compared with the year prior. Visitors also stayed 1.3 million — or 11.2 percent — more days on the island in 2017 than 2016.
That energy continued into the new year, according to statistics for January released by the HTA. February data is not yet available.
On Hawaii Island, more than 158,300 people arrived in January, a 5 percent increase over the same month in 2016. The amount they spent also increased to $268.2 million during the month, $1.8 million more than last year. It was also the highest monthly total ever recorded for the island.
Statewide, arrivals were up 5.4 percent with 796,483 people reaching the state. Those visitors spent $1.69 billion during January, the highest statewide total for visitor spending ever recorded in a single month in Hawaii’s history.
Hoteliers also started the year strong with occupancy statewide at 81.7 percent in January, according to the HTA.
Hotel occupancy statewide averaged 80 percent in 2017, up from 79 percent in 2016. The highest average of annual statewide occupancy was in 2005 at 81.1 percent.
On Hawaii Island, hotel occupancy was 80.6 percent with the Kohala Coast resort area reporting occupancy of 79.4 percent during January, according to HTA. That’s higher than the 2017 average for Hawaii Island with occupancy at 74.4 percent for the year. The Kohala Coast resort area’s occupancy rate for the year was 73.3 percent.