Middle-Class People Can No Longer Afford Hawaii

by Shelli Stein

Hawaii tourism has been a hot topic of conversation these past few months. The lack of affordability of vacationing in Hawaii as compared to other destinations is one aspect to consider. Hawaii ranks high among destinations middle class people struggle to afford. There are reasons tourism in Hawaii is down, so let’s take a closer look.

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Reasons For The Decline in Hawaii Tourism

This article spells it out quite nicely and offers ten reasons. A few that stand out are:

1. Concerns about short-term Hawaii vacation rental troubles.

The state seems to be in an ongoing struggle to decide how to handle short-term rentals when its residents are in need of affordable housing. Many tourists are hesitant to book short-term rentals because if the laws change, their reservations will be canceled.

2. Hawaii overcharging while underdelivering.

Accommodations in Hawaii are pricey. Nobody likes being charged $500 a night for a three star hotel. When travelers perceive price gouging, they look elsewhere for better deals.

3. Does Hawaii want tourism?

Sometimes people wonder because of the mixed messages Hawaii broadcasts. These mixed messages lead to feelings of not being wanted. Sometimes it seems like Hawaii only wants certain types of tourists.

The article reminds us that last year, Hawaii Tourism Authority awarded a new contract to help attract “mindful and respectful” European visitors. Also, the governor visited Japan to try to win those tourists back to the islands. HTA said its focus is on “increasing per person, per day expenditures.” But now, even HTA has retrenched, saying the state needs to “stabilize” Hawaii tourism.

4. It’s good to stay aware of Hawaii’s both current and planned new fees and taxes.

These fees include a $25 tourism impact fee and new accommodation taxes beyond 18%. Folks are skeptical as just what those fees will be used for. Time will tell.

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Why Middle-Class People Can’t Afford Hawaii

And then there’s the general issue as to whether or not middle-class people can even afford a holiday in Hawaii.

According to this recent article, Hawaii made the list of five dream destinations that middle-class families struggle to afford. Other destinations were Italy, The Maldives, London and Paris.

We’ve all noticed the increase in travel expenses. The effect for many is having to adjust travel budgets, decrease time spent traveling, and/or choose different destinations.

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It’s natural that when planning holidays comparing cost and value between places comes into play. And maybe it leads to not revisiting places you’ve been going back to time and time again. This is the dilemma Hawaii finds itself in.

Hawaii is unique, no doubt about that. It’s always attracted visitors from near and far. It’s never been a cheap destination. However, with the rise in ALL costs in Hawaii middle-class visitors are now starting to look elsewhere for where to spend their holiday budget.

But Hawaii isn’t the only popular destination where rising costs now have middle-class families looking elsewhere. This article delves into why Italy, The Maldives, and European capitals such as London and Paris are suffering the same fate as Hawaii when trying to attract visitors.

The article also offers 4 strategies the middle-class families can use to make dream destinations more accessible. I like tip number three the best 🙂

Final Thoughts On Hawaii Tourism

No one likes when costs go up at their favorite destinations. And it’s hard when costs are up for places on your travel bucket list as well. It requires creativity and realistic budgeting. And sometimes, yes, it does mean choosing a different location that better matches your budget.

Have you started choosing different locations because certain ones have risen too much in cost? Or are you comparing destinations more closely before opting for one over the other?

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Steve May 11, 2024 - 12:09 pm

traveled to Hawaii 2-4X a year from East Coast every year for 12 years. Then Biden comes in and there’s just no way to make it affordable any longer. Thanks Joe

DaninMCI May 11, 2024 - 12:28 pm

Bidenomics is killing vacations like this. We struggle to pay for food and gas these days. I’m sure it’s still somewhat affordable for West Coast folks on discounted flights but hotels are still high. I guess you can legally sleep on the street there so that’s an option. The other thing about Hawaii is that the state doesn’t really like tourists anymore so they don’t care.

PSL May 11, 2024 - 8:49 pm

For those who think high costs in Hawaii are the fault of President Biden, then who’s at fault for sky-high hotel prices in Europe? Yes, inflation is somewhat to blame but travel industry prices have always reflected supply and demand, and pent-up demand for travel once Covid vaccines were available caused prices to spike everywhere.. Plus, we are living in an era when there are enough rich people (or fiscally irresponsible people) who will pay any price to do whatever the heck they want to do, whether it’s going to a Taylor Swift concert or taking a trip to exotic destinations. That’s why the rest of us have to use our best strategies to earn miles and points so we can occasionally join in the fun

Shelli Stein May 11, 2024 - 9:46 pm

Well said, PSL. Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment.

Christian May 11, 2024 - 10:25 pm

Wow, no shortage of dumb irrelevant comments so far. How the President made Hawaii suddenly vastly more popular is a neat trick. I’ll try to help steer things back to normal.

First off, thank you so much for a topic that often either gets short shrift or is overlooked altogether. Sometimes in the points and miles circles unless we go for notable ms we lose sight of when a destination goes from pricey to downright expensive. Hawaii is a prime example and Orlando is moving pretty quickly in that direction. The thing is, bloggers on BA for instance often brush these inconvenient facts aside or ignore them when – like you – they should be leading the charge against making places only viable for the rich by at least raising the issue.

I get that Hawaii would vastly prefer to have half the current number of tourists spending twice the money per person. Every destination wants that and given Hawaii’s love/hate relationship with the mainland I’m not shocked by the increasingly eye-watering prices and surcharges to discourage mass tourism. I’ve read about the fights over eliminating Airbnb in some areas which may hold some promise to stabilizing things but I don’t see much hope for Hawaii to become a mid priced destination again.

It’s terribly sad when Hawaii joins the likes of London or The Maldives as a place that’s pretty much out of reach for a vacation on a middle class travel budget. I think that raising awareness might help but ultimately since Hawaii has limited infrastructure and very limited space and just doesn’t want a bunch of middle class tourists from Boise or Phoenix we (the traveling public) don’t have a lot of choice. If travel bloggers raise the issue of intentionally destroying affordability in places like Hawaii or Vail or Orlando – where there’s plenty of space and infrastructure and vast price increases are purely due to greed – then maybe less places will choose the path of expensive notoriety over reasonable prices.

Shelli Stein May 12, 2024 - 9:45 am

You bring up good points, Christian. And I appreciate your thanks. Your point is spot on about miles/points folks sometimes not realizing when pricey shifts to expensive. That knowing sneaks up slowly, but it does sneak up. I’m thinking though that Hawaii might be an outlier when it comes to other destinations learning from its mistakes. But you’re right, there are a lot of lessons for other destinations to learn from observing how tourists are being turned off to visiting Hawaii. Thanks for taking the time to comment.

Ford May 11, 2024 - 11:52 pm

Price gouging, which I refuse to use the “I” word for, was a direct result of large corps–and then other smaller businesses-realizing during covid a bunch of money had been printed or that there weren’t other options to their goods or services thanks to massive industry consolidation and lack of competition.

London has a very different set of options than Maldives or Hawaii…and Maldives or Hawaii should be aware of that. US Consumer credit cart balances overdue for 30/60/90 days are now at a 2012 level, coming out of the great recession…and will probably worsen. The American consumer has been stretched to its limits, and we all know it intrensically, but the bank data also has been showing it for months.

Grocers were early pandemic movers on gouging as most have a nearly captive audience…meanwhile the FCC is suing to stop Kroger from purchasing their biggest competitor safeway/albertsons. That this is even possible after pandemic gouging and supply chain and competition shortages is case-in-point as to why corp law needs to be re-written. Airlines and hotels, with a year of decent traffic after several years of starvation and near annihilation of the industry are now looking to make up for lost time…but consumers don’t have the cash any longer.

Actually discount, or see travel evaporate. Easy peasy.

Shelli Stein May 12, 2024 - 9:48 am

Thanks for reading, Ford, and taking the time to comment. Your points are well taken.

Mark May 12, 2024 - 3:45 am

I think expense is an important factor in folks avoiding
Hawaii, but there’s more . In Honolulu, there’s crime
and parts are looking seedy. There’s always been a feeling
of ” we want your money but tourists go home ” feeling about
it. Plus there are other places cheaper and with better hotels.
And, finally I think, it’s just lost some of its glamor, it’s cache’ is lost.

Shelli Stein May 12, 2024 - 9:51 am

True enough, Mark. It’s a pity that Hawaii has lost some of its glamor. And as you mention, a lot of different factors contribute to this.

Joey May 12, 2024 - 8:16 am

I grew up middle class in the east coast back in the 80s/90s and back then, Hawaii was known as this honeymoon exotic destination. You go there only once or if you’re lucky, a handful of times in your life. It was never a destination middle families went to every year. Same for Europe.
I think the typical middle class family in the USA aspire more to go to Disney World than Hawaii. I’d worry more about economics stuff if Disney suddenly becomes unaffordable for the middle class family.

Shelli Stein May 12, 2024 - 9:55 am

Great point about Hawaii vs Disney World, Joey. And your point about going to Hawaii once if lucky rings true. A friend in tourism in Hawaii mentioned that most of his customers are first time visitors to Hawaii. When he asks why they’ve never visited before they reply “too expensive”. When he then asks them why they chose to come anyway, they reply “because it will get even more expensive”. So it’s a one time trip. The returning over and over again tourist, which Hawaii needs to sustain its economy, is fading fast.

Scotty May 12, 2024 - 3:38 pm

Socialism produces nothing but misery and poverty — and Bidenomics is socialism in action. And it is 100% linked to soaring inflation that directly impacts travel to places like Hawaii.

I have NEVER seen Americans more depressed or stressed about money (that includes the Carter presidency disaster, which I lived through).

When you combine all of that with the (often) unwelcoming attitude of the Hawaiian Tourism Authority and hostility of local residents — and it all adds up to a big tourism problem that will not be fixed anytime soon.


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