More Delays, More Jobs Losses, But Moves Toward Jobs Diversification Is Encouraging

Hawaii’s tourism took a turn for the worst as 25 hospitality companies including hotels recently announced they will lay off hundreds of workers within the next 30 days. This latest round of job losses will take effect Nov. 13.

Hotels also warned that if the situation doesn’t improve by Jan. 8, they would need to let go even more workers. Travel agencies already have reported mass cancellations for September, October and November.

But the tourism industry most likely acted on the latest mass layoffs because of the repeated push backs of reopening tourism and lifting the 14 days quarantine for visitors. The State planned to open tourism on Aug. 1st, then Sept. 1st, but now plans to open in Oct. 1st. Uncertainty has always been corporations’ Achilles heel. And given the increase spread of COVID-19 in the state, the Oct. 1st target is looking more optimistic than likely.

Mounting frustration
The latest push back of tourism’s reopening is not being as readily accepted by the community and businesses as earlier precautionary measures, and for valid reason.

The State’s pre-travel testing program is still not where it should be. Full implementation is taking too long. On top of that, it remains unclear what benchmarks must be met in order for the state to move on reopening the economy fully. There’s just too many uncertainty with little guidance from top state and county leader.

And it’s not hyperbole to say that the State’s economy fully. There’s just too many uncertainty with little guidance from top state and county leaders.

To get a big picture of the losses this year since tourism was shit down for business in March.

Hawaii Tourism Authority reported visitors spent a hefty $17.6 billion in Hawaii last year. This year’s revenues and visitors rate pale in comparison to year’s past.

The Stay-at-Home orders and ripple effect of tourism’s demise also has been devastating to other businesses. Twenty percent of Hawaii businesses have had no revenue since January and 2- percent reported losses of more than half of their monthly revenues, according to the University of Hawaii Economic Research Organization.

While tourism is on hold, Gov. Ige and state lawmakers announced $10 million—of the $1.25 billion allocated to Hawaii by the Federal government to ease the burden of COVID—will go to bolster jobs in agriculture, health care and technology, besides tourism.

Part of the $10 million will go to workforce retraining programs. Sen. Donovan Dela Cruz said, “What we tried to do was to get people off unemployment and start to seed non-tourism sector jobs.” Participants of the retraining program will receive $13 per hour.

Investments toward diversifying the state’s economy is long overdue and ultimately the best course to take for the economy in the long term.

Hopefully building new industries and expanding non-tourism jobs will bring in higher paying jobs that could make living in Hawaii (highest cost of living in the nation) easier.

For three consecutive years the state has registered a decline in its workforce; it has also experienced a decline in population for years that could get worse in a poor economy and high cost of living. Surveys show many residents who remain are under financial stress and take on multiple jobs to make ends meet.

The $10 million to help diversify the economy is a good start but more needs to be done. There is no reason why alternative energy, given the state’s natural resources, isn’t a major industry for Hawaii. It could be pursued with cultural sensitivity and in collaboration with Hawaii’s native community. This will take effective leadership.

In hindsight it’s easy to say efforts to diversify the economy should have been a major focus arguably generations ago. Serious talks have been floating around since the early 1990s, but little action taken.

The overwhelming success of tourism in Hawaii, one of the most successful models in the world, made diversification less urgent. Tourism has been a reliable industry in many cities around the world. It was solid prior to the pandemic. Not to mention building a tourism-centered economy like in Hawaii actually makes a city more aesthetically beautiful, as compared to other cities that rely on hard industry that cause greater environmental pollution.

The Ige administration has been caught flat-footed by COVID. But so has all administrations.

Earlier in the pandemic U.S. governors sought to minimize the virus’ curve and placed public safety first and foremost. As local and county economies worsened, some governors have caved into pressure to find a more balanced approach to the pandemic, considering both safety and economic needs.

As more jobs are lost, Gov. Ige will need to make even harder decisions to open the economy even while rates of COVID infections could show little improvement.

But ultimately, the public cannot just be pointing the finger at leaders, but must be better at keeping the virus from spreading. At minimum, wearing a mask is a must.

Practice responsibility and we all can get out of this rut faster. 

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