Hotel occupancy rates show West Hawaii eclipsing pre-disaster rates

  • Hotel guests play in the pool at the Sheraton Kona Resort & Spa at Keauhou Bay. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)

KAILUA-KONA — The final month of summer treated Hawaii Island hoteliers well.

“August was our best month we’ve had in a long time and the numbers even beat 2017 August numbers,” said Ross Birch, executive director of the Island of Hawaii Visitors Bureau.

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Significant year-over-year gains were posted during the month in three major indicators: occupancy, revenue per available room (RevPAR) and average daily rate (ADR).

Occupancy islandwide was 80.9% during August with the Kohala Coast reporting 84.3% of rooms on the Gold Coast occupied during the 31-day month, data released this week by the Hawaii Tourism Authority shows. Last year, just 69.1% of rooms were filled on the island, with the Kohala Coast area faring worse with an occupancy rate of 63.3%, down from 2017 when both areas reported occupancy at 72.6%.

“The large increase we had for August year-over-year is truly really the lack that we had last year,” said Birch.

The hotel and tourism industries took major hits from natural disasters as both appeared to be taking off, posting record-breaking numbers for the first four months of 2018.

August numbers were particularly impacted by Kilauea Volcano’s eruption that for three months spewed lava, destroying hundreds of homes and forever changing the island’s landscape, before subsiding mid-month, as well as Hurricane Lane, which deluged windward areas, dumping more than 50 inches over Mountain View, and prompted rescues and caused heavy damage.

“But it was a phenomenal month — even beyond so of what a normal August was,” Birch said. “There is a built-up demand that we’ve got now coming back to the island and we saw it throughout the entire summer.”

That continuing demand has put the island’s hotel performance back to where it was year-to-date in 2018, including the record-growth and downturn. Occupancy islandwide during the first eight months of this year was 78.3% compared to 78.2% in 2018, according to the HTA. On the Kohala Coast, that rate was 79.3% and 73.2%, respectively.

“We’re actually pacing ahead of 2018 year-to-date. I think August is the month we actually passed last year’s year-to-date totals,” said Birch,

The numbers are also up from 2017, when year-to-date occupancy was 75% for both the island and Kohala Coast area.

That’s something that resorts along the Kohala Coast see as a good sign, according to Stephanie Donoho, administrative director for the Kohala Coast Resort Association, which includes properties like Mauna Kea Beach Resort, Hilton Waikoloa Village and Fairmont Orchid, among others.

“All of the resorts are looking at where we were prior to all of the eruptive activity because it’s really hard to compare year-over-year with last year’s numbers,” she said. “We’re looking at where we were in comparison to 2017 and feeling like, OK, things are really starting to stabilize, we’re feeling really strong about it.”

Both Donoho and Birch presented positive outlooks for the fall and winter. That included September, which is typically a slow time of the year.

“Softer in comparison to a wonderful August is still not a bad month as well,” Birch said Friday while on the road during a week-plus “West Coast blitz” promoting just the Big Island to over 300 travel agents and meeting planners from San Diego to Seattle. “We’re looking that the end of the year should be strong. November-December is still looking good.”

Donoho said the Kohala Coast is seeing more group business planned in 2020, another good sign.

“A lot of the meeting planners were hesitant with all of the national media focused on the eruptive activity and people’s lack of understanding about geography within Hawaii. They were just concerned about bringing meetings here in the last couple years,” she said. “But I think we’re going to be really strong heading into 2020.”

That’ll be bolstered by the excitement generated by the return to operation of the Auberge Mauna Lani in January. The resort has been closed since October for a $200 million renovation to the 32-acre Mauna Lani hotel that opened in 1983. The tourism authority figures presented for this year do not reflect Mauna Lani’s renovations as the rooms have been closed for more than 30 days and aren’t counted.

“I’m feeling really good about what’s happening on the coast,” Donoho said.

In related news, the Mauna Lani is hosting a “talent search” to recruit hundreds more people to fill about a couple hundred positions in advance of its reopening.

The event will be held 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Friday at the Mauna Lani’s Visitor Arrival Center. Positions are available in a range of areas, including food and beverage, culinary, housekeeping, engineering, front, desk, pool, recreation, spa and more. Leadership from all departments will be available to discuss career opportunities.

The Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported Friday that the closure triggered temporary layoffs for about 400 employees. Some 230 of those employees are anticipated to come back to work.

Interested persons are encouraged to visit https://aubergeresorts.com/maunalani/careers for job postings as well as to apply online. Attendees are encouraged to wear aloha attire and to bring a resume and references.

BY THE NUMBERS

MONTH OF AUGUST

Hawaii Island

———————- August 2019 | August 2018 | Change%

Occupancy: 80.9% | 69.1% | 11.8%

ADR: $280.90 | $242.62 | 15.8%

RevPAR: $227.36 | $167.69 | 35.6%

South Kohala

———————- August 2019 | August 2018 | Change%

Occupancy: 84.3% | 63.3% | 21%

ADR: $405.96 | $349.74 | 16.1%

RevPAR: $342.35 | $221.54 | 54.5%

State

———————- August 2019 | August 2018 | Change%

Occupancy: 84.3% | 78.8% | 5.5%

ADR: $289.75 | $280.13 | 3.4%

RevPAR: $244.27 | $220.68 | 10.7%

YEAR-TO-DATE

Hawaii Island

———————- YTD 2019 | YTD 2018 | Change%

Occupancy: 78.3% | 78.2% | 0.1%

ADR: $280.90 | $262.41 | 2.5%

RevPAR: $210.62 | $205.20 | 2.6%

South Kohala

———————- YTD 2019 | YTD 2018 | Change%

Occupancy: 79.4% | 73.2% | 6.3%

ADR: $380.81 | $376.17 | 1.2%

RevPAR: $302.47 | $275.27 | 9.9 %

State

———————- YTD 2019 | YTD 2018 | Change%

Occupancy: 81.7% | 82.1% | -0.4%

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ADR: $284.74 | $279.84 | 1.8%

RevPAR: $232.57 | $229.70 | 1.2%

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