Hawaii Tourism Harpooned As Residents Abandon Ship

Hawaii Tourism Harpooned As Residents Abandon Ship

The US Census showed a large interstate migration from July 2021 until July 2022. While some states saw significant gains, such as Florida with 1.9%, Hawaii was at the opposite end of that spectrum. Hawaii lost .5% of its population during the year, although some states, like New York, lost even more. People moved to lower-cost places, which spells big trouble for Hawaii tourism that relies on these salaried and hourly workers.

Why did Hawaii lose its population last year?

In a word, it’s simple, the cost of living is too high. Hawaii has some of the highest costs of living anywhere. We see it living here; you experience it traveling here. The high cost of housing, in particular, as it has risen tremendously, helped create a severe travel labor shortage. It has become so serious in the way it is impacting travel businesses.

Some local businesses have taken to housing their employees and become unintentional landlords.  If not, employees have no place they can afford and would otherwise leave Hawaii. Or their business would fold.

Hawaii travel has long used both migrant labor and those who attempt to move to Hawaii. That’s long provided a beneficial supplement to Hawaii’s workforce, especially for jobs in the tourism industry.

Not only is it the cost of housing, but that of groceries and other staples like fuel, impacted by inflation, undermining those we rely on to keep Hawaii travel running smoothly.

Hawaii vacation costs increased in parallel with our cost of living.

Hawaii real estate had been relatively stable-priced, albeit expensive, for years before Covid. But since then, the cost of condos and homes has increased by two-thirds in 2021. As the value of homes increased, so did the price of rental housing, which both now sit at about three times the national average. The median value of a home in Honolulu grew to $1.15M during Covid.

Unless Hawaii can make significant inroads into more affordable housing, a disaster will strike Hawaii’s travel industry.

The trend towards unaffordability for Hawaii workers was already looming.

Even before Covid, we could see this coming. It hasn’t been unusual for a travel industry worker in Hawaii to work up to three different jobs and then be in shared housing to afford a place to stay. This has been an evolving problem for decades. Editor Rob recalls visiting a friend who was paying more than $2,000 per month to live in someone’s garage.

The new governor and legislators repeatedly say that more affordable housing for residents is a priority even as prices continue to rise. Increasing supply is a key factor, but that won’t come easily. And as new housing units are needed, the cost of building housing, including materials, is extraordinary.

Recently Maui’s Na Hale O Maui housing nonprofit also said that Hawaii has “the most regulations and hoops that you have to jump through to provide housing.” Currently, the building of affordable housing is extremely slow. Construction rates are less than 10% of what they were 50 years ago when housing was far more accessible.

Rents from $2,000 per month if you can only find them.

Even then, it is extremely hard to find accommodation. Supply is virtually nonexistent, while there is incredible demand, creating a condition where hospitality workers can’t afford to live here.


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172 thoughts on “Hawaii Tourism Harpooned As Residents Abandon Ship”

  1. I Certainly don’t advocate what I have seen and heard. Renting or Leasing an apartment, 3 bedrooms, and 14 adults plus some children living in it. Others that are doing this to save money. Hopefully Hawaii is keeping this in check, New York California and other states don’t. The strain on the Budget is consuming every bit of money that comes in, earmarked or not. Hawaii is in terrible debt and getting deeper. Something will happen if not corrected. Housing needs will not be met. Bond issues won’t have the desired effect.

  2. We were willing to convert our garage into a living space for my son n grandson to live in but constructing it from Hawaii greedy contractors went from $5000 to construct to now over $12 000 while still waiting on city to approve our plans for construction after almost 2Years!?! That to us is bs for locals not to be fairly dealt with to make affordable living area! Give us a reliable local fully licensed contractor who can do our remodel without having to get a loan and can build from architecte to finish n we will do it!??

  3. Visiting Hawai’i is a privilege and a joy. The customer service workers are fabulous and deserve affordable housing. Other tourism destinations also face this conundrum and there has to be an answer – Maybe places like Santa Fe, Jackson Hole and other tourism destinations need to come together with ideas that don’t involve blame so much as collaboration.

  4. We have been prostituting our land to outside investors who don’t even live here, while allowing the market to set prices that locals cannot compete with outside money. Sure the Govt likes all those tax dollars while there is no provision for locals to even be a first time buyer competing with investors of multiple properties buying and selling food producing potential land who care less aboyt the sustainability of local economy. This is short term thinking chasing money without long term community building.

    1. States across the USA are instill laws restricting who can purchase land/property based off of their originating country. Maryland just instituted a law that says that Chinese citizens cannot purchase property in Maryland beginning in 2024. It is not unheard of for this to happen and Hawaii is well within their rights to do this as well.

  5. Hmmmm… I’ve heard it said that “there is no right to have a vacation in Hawaii” If it’s to expensive, well that’s just life.
    Does that apply to those trying to Live in Hawaii?
    Just curious.

    1. Workers are needed in Hawaii, thus helping them afford to live there supports the system. Without the workers, you can’t support an economy. Specifically, without workers in the service industry, you don’t have tourism, and right now that’s what’s propping up Hawaii’s economy. Thus the discussion here since it’s a catch 22. If the workers can’t afford to live there and leave, then you don’t have people to work in the restaurants, hotels, etc. that tourists need/want.

  6. My comment back to the “Get rid of all the tourists” is what is Hawaii going to produce to replace it? Back pre-Cook there is decent evidence that the population, which was entirely self sustaining, was in a century-long decline from peak numbers. That should give an idea of hw many people the Islands can support with an entirely self-sustaining no imports/exports economy. There are a heck of a lot more people there now; just how are they going to live?

    I fully understand that there are, in many places, too many tourists and the numbers and impact need controlling. But that comes at the cost of imported money.

    1. Perplexed as why you think that slowly phasing out the tourist economy would plunge Hawaii back into a pre-contact economy. Nobody here is proposing to completely isolate the islands; at least I’m not. What I’m saying is phase tourism out as other economies are developed. Agriculture and Technology, for starters. It should be possible, if there is the political willpower.

      1. Technology yes. Cow as left the barn on farming. Sugar cane and pineapple are grown somewhere else in a 3rd world countries without high wages. Same as here on the mainland. In Oregon tech firms want cheap land low taxes and abundant fresh water and electricity not Hawaii strong suit. Tourism is. I feel sorry for the locals because that means they are priced out. Answer: education for young people in computers that pays well and has possibilities of remote work.

      2. I was pointing out what the Islands can sustain without imports. What manufacturing are you proposing. What agriculture on what land? How viable are they? Right now, you have coffee and Mac-nuts. How many people are employed for how much land and water? Hawaii has limited fresh water. Who will get it? Not saying it’s not possible, at some level, but I don’t think the needs of the current population for food, water, housing, energy, and employment have been really though through.

        1. Good points. I don’t have all of the answers, obviously. But I know that when the current approach to a problem (in this case tourism as the overhelmingly predominant source of income) is not working, another approach must be sought. It will take time and sacrifice. But future generations are worth the effort. Either that or Hawaii must strictly limit tourism industry (Cap the number of daily arrivals, for example; cap new hotel/resort construction, etc) to stop cannibalism of the scarce resources (like you mentioned, water and livable space, among others). Unchecked growth for the benefit of the travels industry (hotel conglomerates, airlines) is slow suicide.

    2. I don’t know where you read that gem about the decline pre-contact. There were up and down periods — three to be exact — before contact. But, the decline in population without rebound was post contact, due to the introduction of western diseases.

      1. Bou are right about the population bust post pandemic. The mass exodus of residents from Hawaii was startling. And the largest employer of the state, the state government, makes their money from the taxes paid by the residents of the state. Without tax paying residents, the state cannot hire enough employees to continue offering certain social services. And without social services, residents will not be able to survive in Hawaii, thereby increasing the exodus. It’s a vicious cycle.

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