Traveling to Hawaii on the cheap
March 16, 2009 ·
In an attempt to be frugal amid the economic downturn, Karl Stetson and his family in Seattle, Washington, planned to skip their annual trip to Hawaii.
That is until Stetson began noticing airfare and hotel rates plunge this year.
Last week, he caved, purchasing plane tickets for less than $450 a person, a sweet deal compared with $600 last year.
He booked rooms at Hanalei Colony Resort, among the emerald mountains in Kauai, for 25 percent off, and he was delighted to receive one of the nights free.
“We might have done something on the mainland, something more low-key, but the fact that it was inexpensive was a big factor for us to go again,” said Stetson, who is taking his wife and two young boys in May.
Outdoor enthusiasts, lovebirds and families prudently resisting the urge to visit Hawaii, say aloha to majorly discounted airfares and hotel rates — many hitting rock-bottom prices — this year.
The bittersweet theory seems to hold true: What is bad for the travel industry has been good for consumers. As Hawaii suffers from its biggest visitor decline since the Great Depression, the state is enticing travelers with discounted deals to offset the toll on its local economy.
Airfare to Hawaii from cities in the continental United States has plummeted more than 30 percent in some markets, according to FareCompare.com, an airfare research Web site. Pleasant Holidays, one of the nation’s largest privately owned travel companies, is offering vacation packages that include flight and three nights hotel stay in Oahu starting at $299.
Online travel giants Expedia, Travelocity and Orbitz are all offering sales on Hawaii flights, hotels and activities, and some luxury hotels have rooms for less than $150 a night.
“You won’t see prices to Hawaii like this again in your lifetime,” FareCompare CEO Rick Seaney said. “It might be worth it to take that once-in-a-lifetime trip.”
For decades, tourists from the United States and abroad have flocked to Hawaii, many captivated by the exotic islands’ natural beauty: snow-capped mountains, active volcanoes, breathtaking waterfalls and pristine beaches.
Now with the administration of President Obama, who spent part of his childhood in Hawaii, there is a renewed interest for tourists to visit, travel experts say.
But travelers have long viewed Hawaii as an expensive destination in comparison with Florida or California.
Two adults can expect to spend $673 a day in Honolulu on food and lodging, making Hawaii the most expensive destination in the country, according to the AAA’s 2008 Annual Vacation Costs Survey.
It is no surprise, then, that in a brutal economy where consumer confidence is low, the islands are having a tough time reeling in visitors, despite discounted prices.
The state reported a 12.4 percent decline in visitors, or 72,255 fewer guests, in January compared with the same time last year. The drop, which started last spring, is a reversal of nearly a decade of visitor growth.
To make matters worse, visitor spending in Hawaii declined by 13.6 percent in January, and many state officials and experts are worried what that will mean for a state where tourism is the backbone industry.