Tens of thousands of jobs have been lost in Hawaii’s visitor industry, but employees of the state agency charged with managing “tourism for the benefit of the Hawaiian Islands” and its main marketing contractor haven’t taken a hit.
The Hawaii Tourism Authority employs 32 full-time staff, and its total payroll is nearly $2.8 million, according to state records. None of those workers has been laid off.
The Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau, HTA’s destination marketer for North America, has not made job cuts, either. HVCB did not respond to the Honolulu Star-Advertiser’s request for payroll costs and number of employees.
Many job duties for HTA and HVCB have changed significantly during the COVID-19 crisis as they assist the state in locking down tourism and providing support to a beleaguered visitor industry.
Marisa Yamane, HTA spokeswoman, said, “All staff are still working full time, either at the Department Operations Center, or on their computers at home, or making phone calls to quarantined visitors.”
All travelers arriving in Hawaii since March 26 are required to self-quarantine for 14 days.
John Monahan, HVCB president and CEO, said, “HVCB staff is still working, either at the HTA Emergency Operations Center, from our office or remotely from home by computer and phone on HTA (COVID-19) emergency communication and information-gathering assignments.”
Monahan said the COVID-19 assignments that his staff are handling include “the administration and staffing for all islands of the visitor 14-day quarantine initial and follow-up calls and the Hotels for Heroes program to provide lodging for key (COVID-19) response personnel.”
Hotels for Heroes is a new initiative launched by the HTA, HVCB and Hawaii Lodging and Tourism Association. The program provides complimentary hotel rooms to first responders and health care workers who want to avoid exposing their families to risk or need housing closer to where they are working long shifts. It also helps participating hotels by reimbursing them $85 a night per room and creating an opportunity to restore hours for some workers. HVCB is coordinating reservations through a newly created housing bureau.
Economists had expected at the start of the year that Hawaii tourism would surpass last year’s 10.4 million visitor arrivals. Now the University of Hawaii Economic Research Organization has forecast a 41% year-over-year drop. For the week ended Wednesday, only 1,187 visitors had come into the state on trans-Pacific flights, which have been subject to a mandatory 14-day self-quarantine for passengers.
HTA, which was established in 1998 to support the tourism industry, received $79 million from the state Legislature for fiscal year 2020, which ends in July. The funding comes from state transient accommodations tax collections.
Kekoa McClellan, Hawaii market representative for the American Hotel and Lodging Association, said that based on current occupancy estimates, nearly 3.9 million total hotel-related jobs nationwide are projected to be eliminated, costing laid-off and furloughed hotel workers more than $2.4 billion in earnings for each week of losses.
“More than 57,000 … lost jobs are right here in Hawaii,” McClellan said.