Visitor numbers continue to increase; over 36K arrived in Kona during February

  • Arriving passengers wait to get their COVID-19 Rapid Test Thursday at Ellison Onizuka Kona International Airport. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)

  • Christina Lindsey, team leader for Premier Medical, processes COVID-19 Rapid Antigen Tests Thursday at Ellison Onizuka Kona International Airport. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)

  • Passengers arrive at Ellison Onizuka Kona International Airport on Thursday. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)

Visitor numbers continue to increase, although the number of people coming to the Aloha State is still lower than pre-pandemic arrivals.

The Hawaii Tourism Authority Thursday released preliminary figures showing there were 90,776 visitors in the state on any given day in February, compared to 250,052 visitors per day in February 2020.


Trans-Pacific flights to Ellison Onizuka Kona International Airport at Keahole (KOA) continue to increase with additional flights forthcoming.

United Airlines Thursday announced a new direct Chicago to Kona flight beginning in June.

And, starting early next month, Alaska Airlines will add an additional flight for a total of six daily flights to Kona, which is similar to the number of flights they had during the same period 2019. The airline also announced that this summer it will restart service between Los Angeles and Kona.

In February, over 36,000 individuals arriving at KOA reported vacationing on the island as their reason for travel. Some 516 reported as intended residents.

On Thursday, approximately 3,300 transpacific travelers passed through the COVID-19 rapid testing station at KOA.

“In December we were doing about 1,000 screenings per day,” said Anne Broderson, Premier Medical COVID project manager for the Big Island. “Now we are doing between 3,200 and 3,300 a day.”

Broderson said the program is working, mitigating the risk while opening up the economy.

She said the positivity rate for the antigen test has been between zero and 0.7%.

The Hawaii Tourism Authority said over 90% of visitors are participating in the Hawaii Pre-Clear program by obtaining their negative COVID-19 test results before departing for the Islands. Hawaii County still requires a second test upon arrival.

In January and February, 859 flights landed at KOA for a total of 154,761 passengers, a decrease of 33.8% from the same period last year.

Total visitor spending in February was $385.3 million, down 73.6% from the same time last year. This represented an average of $13.8 million per day, compared to $50.3 million per day in February 2020.

There were 2,556 trans-Pacific flights and 532,220 air seats that serviced the Hawaiian Islands in February. This averaged out to 91 flights and 19,008 air seats per day, which is far less than the 172 flights and 38,186 seats per day in February 2020.

For the first two months of 2021, total visitor spending dropped to $768.7 million. This represented an average of $13 million per day compared to $52.9 million per day, year-over-year.

Through the first two months of 2021, per person per day visitor spending dropped to $161, a decrease of 27.9%. Lodging, food and beverage, entertainment and recreation, and transportation expenses were lower while shopping expenses were similar to a year ago.

Key U.S. West markets had travel restrictions in place during February. California residents were advised to quarantine for 10 days after re-entering their state. San Francisco and Santa Clara counties maintained their mandatory 10-day quarantine for people coming from outside their region. In Oregon, returning residents were encouraged to self-quarantine for 14 days after their return. In Washington, a 14-day quarantine was recommended for residents returning from interstate and international travel.


San Francisco resident Susan Kimberlin traveled to Kona Thursday with her husband and two children. She said they have been coming here two times a year for several years, but haven’t returned since August 2019.

“We felt it was safe enough for us to come,” she said noting they had been vaccinated. “It was time. We are excited to be here.”

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