Tourism is big business in Hawaii. According to numbers from the state’s tourism authority, more than 8.9 million tourists visited the area in 2016, with the state posting record numbers in visitor spending and tax revenue.
You’ve got to put all those people somewhere. Most stay in hotels, which make up the majority (56 percent) of the state’s lodging. Traditional vacation rentals and condo hotels also comprise a sizable share of the state’s accommodations, at 15 percent and 14 percent, respectively.
While the number of Hawaii listings on sites like Airbnb and VRBO is growing, this isn’t necessarily new inventory that hasn’t been rented out before.
And then there’s the sharing economy. Businesses like Airbnb have gained adherents around the globe, and given the demand for temporary lodging, a tourist hot spot like Hawaii might seem a natural match for such services.
Indeed, there are indications that the use of these services is on the rise, says Jennifer Chun, tourism research manager at the Hawaii Tourism Authority. But, she notes, testing out the effects of the sharing economy on the state’s tourism industry isn’t easy, and there’s reason to think it’s had less of an impact on inventory in Hawaii than in high-profile mainland destinations like New York City and the Bay Area.
As Chun points out, in Hawaii, many residential properties like condo developments have, for years, been built with the idea of renting them out in mind.
“Vacation rentals have been a long-term phenomenon here,” she says. “It’s not a new thing.”
That, she notes, means that while the number of Hawaii listings on sites like Airbnb and VRBO is growing, this isn’t necessarily new inventory that hasn’t been rented out before. Rather, existing rental properties and rental agencies are using these services as new distribution channels.
“I know that Airbnb started with people renting out their couch or an air mattresses, that kind of thing; and that, I think, is probably happening a lot more in mainland metro areas, but not as much in Hawaii when we look at how much actual inventory is shared rooms in houses,” Chun says.
There are figures that suggest that alternative accommodations are having an observable impact on Hawaii’s visitor industry. According to a pair of studies on alternative accommodations commissioned by the state tourism authority and released this month, between 5 to 9 percent of residents rent out their homes as vacation properties, though only 0.4 percent of residents are renting out homes they actually live in to visitors.
Only 0.4 percent of residents are renting out homes they actually live in to visitors.
And the reports suggest that this trend is slowing, with most home owners surveyed saying that they don’t want to continue using their homes as vacation rentals.
From the consumer side, the reports suggest that such alternative accommodations are a draw for tourists, as 15 percent of those surveyed said they wouldn’t have come to Hawaii if such lodging were not available.
Again, however, Chun says, the meaning of that statistic isn’t necessarily obvious. Given that many existing properties have added sites like Airbnb as distribution channels, these alternative accommodations might encompass inventory that has been on the market for years.
And while hotel market share is down six percent since 2000 (to 62 percent), visitors are up 23 percent over the same time period.
In other words, everyone wins—which makes sense. After all, when you’re in Hawaii, how can you lose?