Hawaii tourism losses mount

Empire editorial

Posted: Sunday, November 11, 2001

A headline in last Sunday's Honolulu Advertiser proclaimed "Hard times in the Islands." The newspaper devoted an eight-page section to the dire economic situation in Hawaii. The account paints a pretty grim picture of the state's economic prospects. Tourism, the cornerstone of Hawaii's economy, was in the midst of a slump prior to Sept. 11. The days following the attacks saw tourism plummet and then rebound slightly.

To date tourism is off 20 percent in the islands and economists predict that broad-based economic momentum won't take hold until late next year at the earliest. The ranks of the unemployed have swollen by 17,000 in the six weeks since the attack. Underlying this cold statistic is the great human toll that has been exacted.

The newly unemployed face not only the indignity of being out of work, but also the loss of medical benefits, the fear of not being able to make house payments and the certainty that new jobs won't be created anytime soon.

Many job seekers are happy to take lesser jobs at lower pay just to stay employed.

As the state legislators deal with the mounting cost of this social responsibility, they have also been meeting in special sessions trying to devise some sort of economic stimulus package in a desperate attempt to head off the inevitable flood of more layoffs and business failures.

They voted to pump an additional $10 million into tourism marketing and airport security in an attempt to grab a share of a shrinking worldwide tourism market. A bill was quickly passed to give tax credits for hotel renovations. And yet, unemployment is expected to rise well into the later part of 2002. In a shrinking Hawaii economy, government will have to tighten its belt due to the ensuing reduction in state revenues, thus fueling the downward spiral.

It is easy to see that casualties in this tale of economic woe extend way beyond the tourism sector. Every business sector, every profession and trade and the very infrastructure of the state will suffer for a long time to come. It has been two months since the world changed. No one could have imagined how far the ripples from ground zero of Sept. 11 would stretch.

It seems strange that in Juneau's insular oblivion, we are immersed in questions to decide what kind of limits we want to place on our tourism economy. A quick read on the second tourism poll portrays a community that doesn't know what it wants.

We did learn from the poll that in Juneau more people would rather reduce congestion downtown than increase jobs and business opportunities. In typical Juneau form, its citizens are split 50-50 on the question of whether to pursue ways to accommodate more cruise visitors or reduce cruise volume, jobs and business opportunities.

Another revealing statistic from the poll is the 28 percent drop in participation. The first poll saw a respectable turnout of 1,511 while only 1,089 participated in the second poll despite widespread publicity. It would be interesting to hear reasons from those who dropped out.

The third poll is active now until 7 a.m. Thursday. The decision to delay the final two polls was prudent. It might be good to devote more time and care in structuring the questions to come. Some participants have complained about the awkward wording of the questions in the first two polls.

We strongly encourage all registered voters to take part in this future-defining project.

Although it's true there may be more differences than similarities between Honolulu and Juneau's economic makeup, we should take heed of what's happening in the islands and be very careful what we wish for.

More information about the long-range tourism plan and polls is available at www.juneauempire.com/tourism/ and www.cbjtourism.com.

Don Smith



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