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The Transportation Security Administration is forecasting higher-than-usual travel volumes at airports nationwide this holiday.

TSA expects higher volumes starting Friday and continuing through Jan. 2 given there was an increase in travelers during the Thanksgiving holiday and there’d be an uptick ahead of Christmas. The agency anticipates the busiest days of the holiday season locally and nationally for air travel will be Thursday and Friday and next Dec. 28 and 29.

State airports might feel busier than they have in recent times due to the combination of increasing visitor demand and a boost in local travel. However, Hawaii travel sellers say tourism across the Hawaiian Islands, which was softening even before the devastating Aug. 8 Maui wildfires, is not likely to set any holiday records.

Right after the wildfires, which killed at least 100 people in Lahaina and displaced thousands of residents, tourism to all of Maui was shut down, affecting the entire state. Tourism to areas outside of West Maui areas hardest-hit reopened shortly after, but a phased-in return of non­essential travelers to the affected areas wasn’t allowed until Oct. 8 and it wasn’t until Nov. 1 that West Maui completely reopened to visitors.

While Maui has started to come back from staggering economic losses, the holiday season hasn’t showed much improvement, and a more noteworthy recovery isn’t expected until well into 2024.

Jack Richards, president and CEO of Pleasant Holidays, said Hawaii holiday season bookings are down by double digits compared with 2022, while bookings to the Caribbean, Mexico and Europe are up.

“It’s not that people aren’t traveling; they just aren’t traveling as much to Hawaii,” Richards said. “We thought the festive season would be stronger, but it didn’t materialize due to the fires. Also, we are now getting negative comments from our travel advisers who have gotten complaints from people that they have sent to Maui who are surprised to see so many tents and people camping on the beach.”

Lahaina Strong, a grassroots organization focused on Lahaina’s re­covery and resilience, since Nov. 10 has peppered the public-access portion of Kaanapali Beach in front of Whaler’s Village with tents. It has put up fishing poles so the tents can remain overnight as part of an exercise of traditional rights. The beach occupation last week had grown by about two-thirds of its original size, and the group had placed Hawaiian flags, some hung upside down to symbolize distress, at various intervals along the entire stretch of beach. The hui has said they will remain at the beach until fire survivors, the bulk of whom are still in hotel shelters, are moved into dignified longer-term housing.

The issue is heating up. Hundreds of Maui hotel workers from ILWU Local 142 and Local 5 are expected to participate in a rally and sign-waving from 4 to 5:30 p.m. Wednesday from the Sheraton Maui to the Hyatt Regency along Honoapiilani Highway and Kaanapali Parkway. Many of the workers in those unions lost their homes in the devastating Lahaina fire and are without long-term housing today.

In an advisory sent Monday, the unions said, “While the proposed solutions before the Maui County Council related to short-term vacation rentals would provide immediate relief to some in need, they would ultimately lead to long-term problems for the Maui community. We call for solutions that address both the short-term and long-term needs for housing in Maui including rent control, eviction protection, and the permanent conversion of short-term rentals in residential neighborhoods to long-term rentals.”

Maui Mayor Richard Bissen and Gov. Josh Green have asked short-term rental owners to convert at least 3,000 units into longer- term housing for fire survivors. Bissen has said that those who do will be rewarded with tax breaks and those who don’t will have to pay higher taxes. Green has said if conversions don’t start improving, he will impose a moratorium in January on Maui short-term rentals.

The struggle has contributed to the holiday season visitor downturn as some West Maui hotels have had to decline last-minute holiday reservations to house fire survivors longer than previously expected. Earlier this month, Outrigger Hospitality Group sent some guests a request to postpone their Maui vacations, cancel trips without penalty or consider staying at an alternative destination. Outrigger has been hosting 1,000 residents across six Maui properties and asked guests for cooperation in accommodating displaced families longer.

“It was our understanding that additional, alter­native accommodations would become available for displaced families. While some housing did open up — it was not material enough to cover all of the needs.”

State Business, Economic Development and Tourism Director James Kunane Tokioka said in a statement that Outrigger’s actions alleviated a Dec. 15 housing crunch.

“I would like to extend my gratitude to the Outrigger Hospitality Group, Jeff Wagoner and his team, for relocating over 200 bookings to other properties so hundreds of displaced survivors can continue to shelter in familiar surroundings as they rebuild and recover from the Maui wildfires,” Tokioka said. “On behalf of the temporary housing task force, we sincerely appreciate the generosity and coordinated effort by Outrigger, as well as all of the other businesses, community partners, and government agencies who have provided support to the affected residents on Maui. All of these efforts will truly make the holidays so much more enjoyable for all.”

Jerry Gibson, president of the Hawaii Hotel Alliance, said the holiday downturn isn’t limited to Maui, where the festive season at hotels with visitors is running 78% to 82%.

“Even if I drive down the street in Waikiki, I can tell it’s not normal,” Gibson said. “I think most hotels on Oahu are in the mid-80% for occupancy, when during a normal festive season we can be in the 90%-to-92% occupancy range. “

Gibson said the drop on Oahu is due to the Maui effect as well as the conti­nued sluggish return of international markets. He said Kauai and Hawaii island are doing a bit better for the season than Oahu and Maui, but “overall, it’s a mediocre year.”

Keith Vieira, principal of KV and Associates, Hospitality Consulting, said fewer available flights and higher-than-expected prices for flights and overall vacations also have contributed to the softness.

Vieira said he also thinks the situations with Israel and Hamas, and Ukraine and Russia, have made holiday travel outside of family visits less popular this year. At the same time, he said less marketing of Hawaii as a travel destination has pushed it off the radar.

“I just feel until we get back to the full marketing effort, Hawaii won’t be top of mind,” Vieira said.

To be sure, softness has been creeping into the hotel market since the August wildfires, and the latest hotel report from STR showed that it was even present in some Hawaii hotel markets in November.

Statewide occupancy in November reached 72.9%, a 3.2-percentage-point increase from November 2022. The average daily rate for hotel rooms statewide dropped 0.6% to $349.87, and revenue per available room rose 2.6% to $255.04. Hotel room revenues statewide reached $427.6 million, a gain of 3.2% from November 2022.

Maui’s hotel occupancy in November was a little better than at the same time in 2022. However, fire-
related impacts, especially in West Maui, contributed to a year-over-year drop in the average daily rate, revenue per available room and overall revenue.

November occupancy at Maui hotels was 68.6%, a 4.8-percentage-point increase from November 2022. The average daily rate at Maui hotels in November was $497.47, down 9.8% from November 2022. Maui’s revenue per available room fell 5.5% to 341.35. Hotel room revenues in Maui were $138.5 million, down 8.2% from November 2022.

In November, Hawaii island occupancy was 67.6%, a 4.3-percentage-point decline from November 2022. Meanwhile, ADR rose 9.2% to $426.10 and RevPAR increased 4.4% to $288.22. Hotel revenues on Hawaii island grew 8% to more than $58.9 million.

Kauai’s hotel occupancy in November was 68.8%, a 7.8- percentage-point drop from November 2022. Kauai’s ADR rose 6.7% to $389.54, while RevPAR fell 1.6% to $267.82. Hotel revenues grew 3% to more than $38.7 million.

Read More: World News | Entertainment News | Celeb News

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