The Walt Disney Co. plans to hire through the next six weeks most of the 800 workers needed for its much-anticipated Aulani Resort in West Oahu, providing a needed boost to the state’s anemic job market.
Most of the major construction has been completed and crews are doing finishing work on the 21-acre property that represents Disney’s entry into the Hawaii vacation market.
Disney has so far hired about 100 employees, many in managerial positions, said Djuan Rivers, vice president of Disney Vacation Club and Resort, Hawaii. The company is now moving forward with hiring many of the hourly workers to fill a variety of positions from housekeeping to food and beverage and entertainment in preparation for the Aug. 29 opening, he said.
Response from job seekers has been overwhelming, with 2,000 to 3,000 applications being submitted, according to Rivers. The resort will be opened in three phases, with 1,250 employees on the payroll by the final phase.
Disney’s hiring will provide a lift for Hawaii’s economy, which has been struggling to produce jobs after the recent recession, said Eugene Tian, the state’s acting chief economist.
Although Hawaii’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate has come down from the peak of 7 percent at the height of the recession in 2009, it has been stuck at 6.3 percent for the last four months as employers have shown a reluctance to increase their payrolls.
"In a normal economic situation the employment rate would be about 4 percent, so the improvement in the job market has been pretty slow," Tian said.
All other things being equal, the 800 new jobs would translate into a reduction in the unemployment rate of 0.1 percentage point, he said. That would effectively knock down the state’s jobless rate to 6.2 percent from 6.3 percent. "That’s pretty significant," Tian said.
A study done last year by CBRE Consulting and the University of Hawaii Economic Research Organization concluded that construction work on Aulani would contribute $634 million in local economic activity, including indirect work and 3,000 direct jobs. After completion, Aulani could generate $271 million in annual economic activity, including jobs at the resort plus other direct and indirect impacts.
Rivers said Disney’s hiring strategy places an emphasis on finding local people who can convey a "sense of place" in their interaction with guests.
"Coming from Hawaii, knowing the stories of Hawaii and being able to be very genuine allows you to bring stories to life," Rivers said. "In order to do that it is important to be from the place. So yes, by all means we are looking for people who are from Hawaii who understand Hawaii and are able to deliver the stories of Hawaii."
Disney recruiters will be at the WorkForce 2011 Job & Career Fair Wednesday at Blaisdell Center to meet with prospective employees. Those interested in applying for jobs are asked to fill out an application online at www.aulani.jobs.
Disney refers to its employees as "cast members," and the jobs they fill as "roles."
Kimberly Agas, hired two months ago as resort manager, has 27 years of experience in the hospitality industry in Hawaii. She said she has been impressed by Disney’s commitment to create an authentic experience for its guests.
"We are looking for cast members who are self-motivated, who are committed to excellence and teamwork," she said. "We are looking for people who have a knowledge of the island heritage and the culture," Agas said.
Aulani will have 359 hotel rooms and 481 time-share units.
Disney said introductory room rates start at $399 per night. Disney sells time at its vacation ownership property in "points." About $26,000 will buy enough points for a weeklong stay annually in one of Aulani’s one-bedroom units.