Jun 1, 2021 - Economy

Hawaii's tourism sector's long road to normal

Illustration of a Hawaiian shirt with coronavirus prints.

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Hawaii's all-important tourism sector is bouncing back, but the state's climb out of its pandemic-sized hole is moving more slowly.

Why it matters: Hawaii's tourist-dependent labor market suffered one of the worst blows in the country last year.

  • Its jobless rate peaked near the highest level of all states. It's since recovered some, but remains the highest in the nation.

Where it stands: Hawaii has the fewest job postings (0.7) per unemployed worker in the country, according to ZipRecruiter data cited by the Wall Street Journal. (For comparison, there are more than five open gigs per jobless person in Vermont.)

Background: Friday's employment report will be make or break for the state of the labor market recovery that stalled in April.

  • Economists estimate jobs made a notable lurch (700,000) toward pre-pandemic job levels in May. States like Hawaii have a much longer way to go to return to normal.

Hawaii has recouped among the smallest share of payrolls compared with pre-pandemic times. Only New Mexico has fared worse by that measure, according to ratings agency Fitch.

One bright spot: Total domestic air seats scheduled for Hawaii this month are up 14% more than June 2019, the state's department for business, economic development and tourism (DBEDT), said last week.

  • Yes, but: The job recovery is trailing behind the tourism rebound, according to the University of Hawaii.
  • "The available labor force has been reduced by outmigration, ongoing virus concerns, and the need to supervise children until schools reopen," researchers wrote last month — noting payrolls won't fully recover for several more years.

What they're saying: "We expect the full recovery of our tourism industry will be beyond 2024," DBEDT director Mike McCartney said in a release last week.

  • Blame the slow return of international visitors — who tend to spend more daily on average than U.S. ones, McCartney said.

Go deeper: Summer travel is forecast to be stressful

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