Tourism still lagging

  • Tourists walk the loop trail Thursday at Akaka Falls State Park in Honomu.

HILO — Tourism to the Big Island was down from last year for the sixth month in a row, according to preliminary data from the Hawaii Tourism Authority.

The number of out-of-state arrivals to the Big Island dropped by 10 percent from November 2017 to November 2018, from over 136,000 to just over 123,000.


During the same time period, total visitor expenditures on the Big Island dropped by 18 percent, from $189 million to $154 million.

The drop in visitors from last year disproportionately affected the east side of the island. November saw 19 percent fewer visitors to the Hilo side, dropping from the previous year’s 50,000 to 40,000. Meanwhile, Kona had a comparably slight decrease in visitors, falling from 117,000 to 109,000.

With data from 11 out of 12 months, most of the island’s year-to-date numbers remain just barely above last year’s corresponding numbers.

Total expenditures remains up by 1.6 percent (from $2.13 billion to $2.16 billion) and total visitor days are up by 0.6 percent. Total visitor arrivals to date, however, are down by 1.7 percent, from 1,587,000 to 1,559,000.

The year-to-date numbers for the Hilo side in particular are lower as well. Visitors to the Hilo side to date are down 6.7 percent, while total Kona visitors are just barely ahead of last year, with an increase of 0.3 percent.

On the other hand, international visitor rates to both sides of the island sharply dropped from last year. Hilo saw a decline of 36 percent, while Kona fared only nominally better with a decline of 27 percent. The number of single-day stays from international visitors dropped by 50 percent.

Ross Birch, president of the Island of Hawaii Visitors Bureau, said the shortfall in visitors is still a lingering effect of the lower Puna Kilauea eruption, which badly disrupted the flow of tourists to the island during the summer.

“The message of the good weather, the good air and the nonvolcanic activity, I guess, just isn’t getting out there,” Birch said.

However, Birch said he also believes the lack of volcanic activity might also be a deterrent to prospective visitors. With no liquid lava visible on the island, one of the chief unique attractions on the island is gone indefinitely.

Birch said early visitor numbers for December seem to be “looking brighter” but will assuredly stack up poorly against the particularly strong numbers from December 2017.

“It’s going to take a lot longer to recover the numbers,” Birch said.

Some relief for the island likely will occur early in the new year, Birch said, with the commencement of Southwest Airlines’ much-anticipated flights from the mainland to the state. While Southwest Airlines has not yet begun selling flights to the state, Birch said he expects the airline to make an announcement regarding Hawaii service in January.


“It will be a big help for us,” Birch said. “Those are new customers, new options, and the potential for interisland flights is enormous.”

Email Michael Brestovansky at

  1. Big ideas December 28, 2018 6:54 am

    Tourism will continue to suffer if we don’t clean up the homeless in Kona on Alii drive from the Marriott Courtyard all the way down to Coconut Marketplace. Two weeks ago I counted 35 homeless street people sitting around begging, drinking, erc…as tourists passed. This is NOT a favorable impression of our lovely town.

  2. Buds4All December 28, 2018 7:07 am

    You know what this means, lets raise taxes.

  3. Uncle Kokomo December 28, 2018 8:09 am

    State of Hawaii and its tourism agencies did a poor job communicating to tourists. Everyone on the mainland thought the whole island was being engulfed by lava when in reality, it was only a small portion. Tourists on the west side of the island canceled their vacations or went else where, even though it was completely safe to come here.

    1. Kaipo Wall December 28, 2018 11:55 am

      just try not to breathe in Kona (then)

  4. 4whatitsworth December 28, 2018 9:29 am

    Now who could have predicted that when you increase costs, block vacation rentals, block resort development, block innovations like uber, incentivise the homeless, and generally disregard the way the place looks by leaving trash on the side of the road, not trimming trees, etc that the word would get out? Even dumb tourists and young kids get the message eventually. “It awfully expensive to work or visit here because of the corruption and miss management”.

    So what is the magic formula to tax and regulate your way into a third world environment? How do you get revenue up 1.6 percent in the largest economic segment to support this effort? With fewer people coming here and more people on welfare this is tricky but here is the formula 1) Raise TAT from 9.25 to 12 percent 2) Increase the tax on investment property 8 percent (+/-), 3) Raise other taxes and fees on Gas, Trash, Sewer, Airport. After you have this money don’t do anything with it, let the trees grow in the road, let the trash build up, and let the homeless run free, use these examples to show that we need to further raise taxes and fees. Make sure you do not doing anything like build recreational facilities and new resorts or make a nice park at Old Airport.

    Easy money and low federal income taxes have actually covered up this this disaster for now but what do you think happens when individual federal income taxes and interest rates go up? I suppose that no one can predict what happens then either!

    1. LimeyinHi December 28, 2018 4:23 pm

      Easy solution, split the island in two, west side keeps all the revenue collected here and we spend it here. It is high time we got out of being governed by a bunch of racist bigots a hundred miles away. We are treated like naughty step children from a previous relationship. Our roads are full of potholes, infrastructure is decaying, the town is a disgrace, and Hilo does not give a sh*t

      1. Alohajonny December 30, 2018 9:42 am

        FU, elitist foreigner, stinking limey. Go back and fix your liberal hellhole.

        1. LimeyinHi December 30, 2018 10:50 am

          FU2 I bet I have lived here longer than you, And BTW I am an American.

    2. KonaDude December 29, 2018 7:40 am

      Those new taxes only covered the latest round of raises( . Y . )

  5. Kaipo Wall December 28, 2018 9:31 am

    Tourism lagging you say ? They are EVERYWHERE ! Due to certain books now readily available there is almost nowhere a local can go and not encounter tourists . They clog our highways , buy all the chow from the markets on the Holidays and now infiltrate even our smallest neighborhood roads or their way up to secluded Air B&B’s . They talk about Southwest coming in. Where will these aircraft find gate space ? Already many aircraft will sit on the tarmac for over and hour for lack of gate space , with Hawaiian Airlines unwilling to share it’s gates even when closed and gone for the rest of the evening . They are doing some work in the heart of the airport , but with Southwest and more and more additional flights from other airlines they need an entirely additional terminal . One in which the baggage delivery systems work . Why force-feed Kona when it ihas already over-eaten ?

    1. Uncle Kokomo December 29, 2018 10:18 am

      You do realize that tourism is Hawaii’s only economic quality, right? Without tourists, everybody would be unemployed. I get frustrated by the huge number of them too, but they are Hawaii’s only lifeline because there is nothing else here to support us economically speaking.

      1. Kaipo Wall December 30, 2018 9:41 am

        We have become enslaved tourism . And the absolute and constant requirements of our own comforts . Very few people live pono anymore . Hawaii lost .

  6. onceawarrior December 28, 2018 10:32 am

    The quality of tourism as an industry should be strained.
    The net effect should be the preservation of precious resources for the people of Hawaii.
    Extreme tourism benefits investors more then the residents. We lose our children’s potential to the mainland industries and professions.

  7. Kaipo Wall December 30, 2018 9:45 am

    As per tourism in Kona , no one is taking a good close look at what is happening at Keahole airport . Our largest portal to the world . It’s semi-controlled chaos and the tourists pour into this confusion , in their thousands , every day .

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