By Jazlyn Scarlet
As part of the tourism sector, rental cars are one of the top industries in the Aloha State. U.S. News notes that rental cars are the most convenient and cost-efficient means to explore Hawaii's Big Island, as opposed to public transportation or paid tours that lack the flexibility private travel offers. In fact, renting a car on the Big Island should be as easy as reserving your vehicle online and picking it up at the Kona International Airport (KOA) or the Hilo International Airport (ITO). The proximity of these car rental services to the airport is supposed to promise a hassle-free process.
However, this isn’t actually the case for all visitors amid the tourism surge. The severe rental car shortage in Hawaii has been sparking headlines as many tourists struggle to book a vehicle despite the efforts of many rental services.
The Aloha State has always been a popular tourist destination, famed for its many beaches and diverse cultures. Even after for the first time since the 1980s in November 2022, Hawaii has continued to greet thousands of tourists who use the relaxed travel restrictions as an opportunity for an island escape. The local government counts 300,000 arrivals each month, and current visitor numbers exceed even pre-pandemic levels.
The majority of the travel industry was devastated in 2020 after companies like Hertz and Avis sold off chunks of their fleets to keep afloat during the pandemic-induced lockdowns. Currently, there is a national struggle to regrow fleet sizes, partly due to the effects of the global computer chip shortage in 2020. This has resulted in shockingly high used car prices and a lack of new cars.
The Hawaii Tourism Authority explains that Hawaii's fleet of rental cars dropped by over 40% from 2019 to 2021. Laura Lukasik of Viking Travel in Illinois says that tourists have to look two to four months in advance to get any reasonable offers. While the average car rental in Hawaii previously sat at about $50 daily, some vehicles today rent at $700 a day, or over twice their 2019 prices. This has caused some consumers to rely on alternatives like U-Haul rentals.
As of January 2023, ABB’s Peter Voser says the shortage in semiconductors is sorted out and that the worst of the chip supply crunch has subsided. This will aid in easing the global rental car shortage.
However, with how Hawaii continues to greet exorbitant numbers of visitors from all over the world, local experts posit that Hawaii’s car rental prices will continue to soar as their island and locals cannot keep up with the demand. Those who are lucky enough to hire vehicles jostle along the important roads on the island trying to get from A to B. Meanwhile, tourists and locals have to wait in restaurants for more than an hour to get a table, and hospitality workers are forced to work double time.
Given the strain of the tourism boom, Hawaii is looking to control tourism by exploring policies that will deliberately limit the supply of rental cars. Congressman Ed Case explains that “the demand can adjust to that supply,” and while tourism is an important segment of the Hawaiian economy, it is important to find a balance that doesn’t sacrifice the welfare of the local community.
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