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From Maui to Oahu | Hawaii Visitors’ Exodus Saga (Part 2)

by Staff

Of the Hawaiian Islands that have benefited most from Maui’s tourism decline following the August 2023 Lahaina fire, Oahu is number one. The latest monthly visitor statistics for November 2023 showed an 11.9% growth for Oahu compared to a year ago. That’s compared to Kauai with 5% growth (Part One in our series) and Big Island with a 6.3% increase (upcoming Part Three).

Choosing between these two enchanting islands, Maui and Oahu, might have been more challenging before, but now, things like visitors feeling welcome, lower cost, the aftermath of the fire, and other factors seem to have weighed heavily in favor of Honolulu as Maui resets and recovers.

For many, the choice of islands between these two icons has always depended on your vacation style. It’s a fascinating contrast.

  • For those seeking a cosmopolitan vibe, replete with more nightlife, a Hawaiian cultural and historic immersion, and arguably more budget-friendly travel, Oahu is a good choice.
  • Maui has always been somewhat of a cross between Oahu and the other more rural neighbor islands. In addition to nightlife, fine restaurants, and big resorts, it also offers less traffic than Oahu and great outdoor adventures. Maui tends to appeal more to those seeking romantic and family vacations, often vacation rental-based. It offers great snorkeling nearby at Molokini, somewhat less intensity and traffic than Honolulu, and great visitor activities, including the islands’ most iconic whale-watching in season.
  • Maui is the epitome of a classic tropical vacation destination, with its exquisite beaches and world-famous resorts. It offers a slower pace than Honolulu and thus is more relaxing. Maui is epitomized by destinations including Mt. Haleakala, and the Road to Hana.

Maui visitors remain flummoxed for now following the Lahaina fire.

Maui is trying to find its way in the midst of necessary tourism, the still suffering fire victims, its long-term housing shortages, and more irate than ever anti-tourism proponents.

None of this is helped by the Hawaii Tourism Authority, the long-troubled arm of state travel marketing. HTA recently stated it is looking only for “respectful” visitors for Maui from the US and Canada. They want visitors who are compassionate, who can come respectfully, and who can really abide by some of the sensitivities and restrictions in place to protect the community at this time. So long as you do it mindfully.”

At risk of alienation and backfiring, however, Maui travel that comes in at close to $20 billion of annual visitor spend. That has not resumed normalcy since the fire, and is complicated by all these other issues.

Free Parking WaikikiFree Parking Waikiki

Why choose Honolulu?

Honolulu is six times larger than Maui, at least in terms of residents, and has arguably more infrastructure, including freeways, that more easily accommodates visitors.

Oahu consistently ranks as having the next-best airfares overall, coming in just behind Maui. For 2024, Honolulu, will maintain its reputation for offering the best overall Hawaii deals when considering all costs. Boasting the highest number of nonstop flights from the mainland, including a selection of highly desirable wide-body aircraft options, Honolulu ensures convenient access from the mainland and internationally.

Fairway Villa Waikiki Free ParkingFairway Villa Waikiki Free Parking

Average nightly hotel rates are 45% less in Honolulu, compared with Maui.

In the latest month’s data, Oahu hotels reported an average nightly rate of $271. That compares with an average nightly rate of $497 for the same period, on Maui.

60% of all Hawaii visitors come to Honolulu, which we’ll alternately refer to as Oahu, and is typified by renowned Waikiki. Oahu is home to about 80% of Hawaii’s population, with about one million residents. But Honolulu is about far more than Honolulu or Waikiki. It also includes the world-famous North Shore and the exclusive Ko Olina destination, where Disney Aulani is found.

With a good public transportation system, The Bus, it’s easier to get around without a rental car or have one for shorter periods of time. And it is largely pedestrian friendly as well.

Exploring Oahu in 2023

For those exploring Oahu this year, the Kaimuki neighborhood still beckons with its diverse shopping and dining options. Delve into the cultural tapestry by touring the Doris Duke “Shangri-La” Estate or bask in the sun at Sans Souci Beach on the Diamond Head side of Waikiki. Discover the pristine white sands of Waimanalo Beach or dive into Hawaiian history at the Honolulu Museum of Art and Iolani Palace. These are just a few starting points for an array of engaging activities, as Honolulu offers limitless possibilities. One of the most visited places in all Hawaii is here, and that is, of course, historic Pearl Harbor.

Honolulu still begs to be discovered.

Hawaii’s only city, Honolulu, epitomizes an everlasting fusion of cultures, nature, and activities. Featuring the highest number of travel options from the mainland, interisland, and within the city itself, Honolulu provides, if nothing else, a well-connected experience. The island features a robust public transportation system, making a rental car for an entire vacation unnecessary. With competitive airfare prices and an extensive range of accommodations, Oahu caters to diverse budgets. Oahu ensures an abundance of activities, from exceptional shopping and cultural immersion to a myriad of dining options and entertainment. Iconic Waikiki Beach, renowned surfing spots, the mesmerizing Hanauma Bay for snorkeling, and the historically significant Pearl Harbor contribute to Oahu’s allure.

A more laid-back Oahu.

For those seeking a more relaxed experience, driving to the island’s other side via the popular Polynesian Cultural Center still unveils a predominantly rural environment, albeit with some traffic. Witness humpback whales during winter, a spectacle visible throughout the Hawaiian islands, including here. Oahu, with its multifaceted offerings, ensures that every visitor finds a slice of paradise tailored to their preferences.

Maui was ready for tourism trouble for years before the Lahaina fire.

The fire served to bring the conflict to a head. Even as it serves as the economic force on Maui, many if not most, residents have been and remain concerned about the focus and the sheer volume of travelers. Remember too that Maui doesn’t have adequate tourism infrastructure to support the number of visitors is typically receives. Also, It is well known that tourism creates mostly low paying employment, inadequate to support the cost of living on Maui. Add to that terrible traffic, and overcrowding at Maui beaches enjoyed by residents and visitors. Clearly, Maui has been overrun with visitors for many years. Yet, Maui officials have long courted more tourism and added flights, including those of newcomer Southwest Airlines. So what should happen now?

We welcome your input on traveling to Maui and on Oahu as an alternative destination for your Hawaii vacation.

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