The Hawaiian Islands have been one of the world’s most attractive island vacation destinations for well over 40 years now. There are so many things that make Hawaii a desirable place to be for so many reasons; nature lovers, ocean lovers, adventure seekers, and those just looking to unwind typically flock to the archipelago.
In 2019 alone over 10 million people visited the Aloha State and spent a total of 17.75 billion dollars generated 2.07 billion in state tax revenue. But in March of 2023, disaster struck.
A well-oiled tourism machine was stopped dead in its tracks by the response to the COVID-19 global pandemic. A statewide mandatory 14-day quarantine and business closures reduced the number of visitors to Hawaii by as much as 98%.
A Devastating Halt to Tourism
Physicists agree, if the goal is to preserve something, it’s better to slowly stop an object in motion rather than to have all its force collide with an immovable object. That’s what happened to the Hawaiian economy, it hit a brick wall going full speed and is now left to pick up the pieces while looking for a new way forward.
Plans to reopen to the state to tourism currently include pre-travel rapid testing that would allow visitors with negative COVID-19 tests to avoid mandatory quarantine.
While things don’t look so great for the Hawaiian tourism economy at large in the short term, the experience of quarantine in itself has been a trip all in itself and as a Maui resident, I wanted to share a few of the silver linings about this wild time in our history.
6. You Appreciate Anything Being Open
When the lockdown began in March, like many places in the world, we literally couldn’t go get a haircut, we couldn’t go to the gym, and we couldn’t go out for a meal prepared by someone other than ourselves.
But, as things slowly started to reopen, even with mask requirements and social distancing practices, there was a feeling of gratitude and even a rekindled appreciation of some of the basic services we enjoy.
COVID-19 has been an opportunity for everyone to reevaluate what was happening in their life and have time to plan a new path forward. The problems that are happening on the mainland with racial inequality are issues that hit home in Hawaii as a land and people colonized and adopted by the United States within the last century. While I would definitely argue Hawaii is much more racially harmonious than many parts of the US, there is always work to be done to educate and create a culture of acceptance over division.
5. A Much-Needed Break for Marine Life
As we all know Mother Nature is incredibly resilient and she once again shows her resilience as fish populations in many of Hawaii’s busiest snorkeling destinations are showing signs of resurgence. Along with the return of larger fish to places like Hanauma Bay on Oahu, monk seal activity has also increased along with water visibility according to a report by the Star-Advertiser, see the full article here.
4. Real Estate Hasn’t Taken the Hit Everyone Expected
When the pandemic began many people were expecting a Great Depression level or 2008 Recession level housing crisis to begin to unfold and really the opposite has occurred. While Hawaii hasn’t been experiencing the real estate boom that the low-interest rates have helped create on the mainland, but the residential single-family home market has been very active.
Short-term rentable condos are certainly down given the shortage of inventory from sellers and uncertainty of the return of tourism from buyers, but the pent-up demand is expected to reinvigorate the market once tourists can return safely. Check out what is happening in the Maui real estate market at Maui Elite Property.
3. More Time with Friends and Family (Ohana)
One of the caveats of not having our traditional workload is the ability to spend extra time with friends and family. Ohana, or family, is very central to Hawaiian culture, and spending time with friends and family is important. With many people being unemployed and there being a limited number of things to do, there have certainly been more beach barbeques and surf sessions than normal.
On the flip side, for those that have family on the mainland, this has been more difficult. I have also had to cancel trips to the mainland to see family due to restrictions and concerns for their health.
2. Putting Health First
COVID-19 has highlighted the need for everyone to have a healthy immune system to avoid either contracting or having complications with the rapidly spreading virus. Eating fresh fruits and vegetables has always been a simple way to maintain good health and the farmer’s markets on Maui make that even more accessible for the island’s residents. Maui grows some of the very best products on the planet and has amazing avocado’s, mangoes, starfruit, and tons of other delicious immune-boosting superfoods.
Getting fresh air and sunshine is never a challenge living on Maui, but sometimes we take those things for granted and might go weeks without going to the beach or going for a hike. I feel blessed to have been able to spend the quarantine on Maui instead of an urban area, life has felt somewhat normal, and being able to spend more time in nature has been great.
1. The Beaches Are Empty!
If you were ever wondering what the world’s most beautiful beaches look like without all the people, umbrellas, towels, and coolers, well the last few months have been a great time to see. My girlfriend and I regularly go to the beaches of Wailea and there are always a healthy amount of people enjoying the area. During COVID, we have had many a morning where we had an entire beach just to ourselves.
Wailea is one of the most popular tourist destinations in all of Hawaii and doesn’t have many permanent residents due to the extreme cost of real estate. The other beaches closer to more permanent residents, such as Baldwin Beach in Paia, still have a noticeable human presence, but in places like Wailea Beach, you’re as likely to see a monk seal as you are to see another person.