Hawaii's tourism industry began in the 1860s. In 1903, a tourism marketing agency was established, and around 2,000 visitors visited Hawaii that year. The steamer was the lifeline of Hawaii's tourism industry. The voyage from San Francisco to Honolulu took 4 1/2 days. Most passengers stopped at various ports along the way for food, rest, and entertainment.
The opening of the Panama Canal in 1914 gave rise to many more cruise ship visits to Hawaii. By 1925, half of all tourists to Hawaii came by ship. In 1934, when Congress passed the Hotel Act, 30% of hotels in Hawaii were owned by non-Hawaiians. This law required that 40% of hotel room rentals be paid in American dollars.
The number of tourists visiting Hawaii increased after World War II. By 1950, one out of every five tourists to Hawaii was from the United States. In 2001, almost 6 million tourists visited Hawaii, most going to Maui and the Big Island.
Maui has been called the Valley Isle because it is surrounded by large mountains, including Mount Haleakala on Maui Island itself. These mountains protect the island from some of the hurricanes that strike other parts of the state. Also contributing to Maui's safety from damage by storms is its location about 600 miles east of the nearest part of a major land mass (California).
Hawaii was the first U.S. property to become a popular destination for Japanese immigrants, and the Japanese presence had a dramatic impact on the state. Hawaii was still decades away from becoming a state in the 1880s, and it would not become a U.S. territory until 1900. However, with nearly 70,000 people born in Japan living in Hawaii as of 2015, it is now the largest foreign-born population in the country.
Japanese immigration to Hawaii began in 1820 when the first group of Japanese settlers arrived at Kauai. They were fishermen who built houses for themselves on the shores of the island. In 1848, after months of fighting between the Hawaiian monarchy and native Hawaiians, the United States annexed Hawaii. This prompted the Japanese government to issue an order banning Japanese migration to Hawaii. But by then there were already many Japanese living in Hawaii who could not return to their homeland. So the government allowed these individuals to remain as U.S. citizens.
In 1866, after years of negotiations between the United States and Japan, the two countries signed a treaty that opened up immigration restrictions. Until this point, most Japanese immigrants to Hawaii came directly from Japan; but from 1868 onward, the treaty authorized the immigration of Koreans who were being forced to work in Japanese mines and factories. Between 1868 and 1918, over 100,000 Koreans were brought to Hawaii.
According to state official estimates, over 9.4 million people visited the Hawaiian Islands in 2017, spending over $16 billion. Tourism accounts for 21% of the state's economy, with many of the state's main companies centering on the steady influx of tourists. In addition, thousands of foreign workers travel to Hawaii every year to work in the hotel and restaurant industries.
The vast majority of visitors arrive by plane, with about 740,000 passengers flying into Honolulu International Airport each year. The state's other airports, located in Hilo (on the island of Hawai'i) and Kahului (on Maui), serve much smaller numbers of travelers.
Almost all tourism visits are vacation trips, with only a small percentage being related to business or research activities. However, since states do not collect data on tourist reasons for visiting, it is difficult to estimate the number of non-vacationers who visit Hawaii annually.
The most popular group of tourists are families from the United States and Canada, who account for nearly half of all arrivals. Next are European tourists, followed by Asian tourists. Latin American tourists make up the smallest share of arrivals.
There are several factors that influence the number of tourists that visit Hawaii. Location is one major factor: visitors prefer places with good weather and plenty to see and do.
Polynesians landed in Hawaii 1,500 years ago after navigating the seas solely by the stars. Captain James Cook makes the first European encounter with the Hawaiian Islands when he docks at Waimea Bay on the island of Kauai in 1778. He writes that it is the best anchorage he has found in all of Polynesia.
The first foreign visitors were Spanish explorers who arrived in Hawaii in 1616. They called the islands "Las Islas Filipinas" (The Philippine Islands). The first British explorers arrived a century later. William Dampier visited in 1688 and Lopo Homans in 1790. In 1820, an American ship named the Boston arrives at Kailua on the island of Oahu. The first missionaries from the Church of England arrive two years later and they begin building churches on Hawaii Island. In 1838, the entire population of Hawaii island attends the first Christian service conducted by these missionaries.
In 1848, the first hotel opens its doors in Hawaii Island's town of Hawi. It is also the first hotel in the state of Hawaii. It is a Spanish mission built upon land given to them by King Kamehameha III. Today, this hotel is known as the Parker Hotel and it still operates today in downtown Hawi. In 1852, the first Protestant church is built in Hawaii Island's town of Hilo.