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Hawaii’s economy is booming, but experts say the job market is lagging behind

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) – Despite booming visitor numbers, a key segment of the Hawaiian economy continues to show weaknesses: the job market.

Since the pandemic began, Hawaii has lost 94,000 jobs, said Carl Bonham, executive director of the UH Economic Research Organization.

Most of these job losses were in the hotel, restaurant and transportation industries, he said.

“So it is a long way to go to get job restoration. Job restoration is insufficient, ”he said.

But now that visitor arrivals and hotel occupancy are back to pre-pandemic levels, many hotel workers are wondering why they haven’t been called back.

“It’s kind of scary, you know. We’re still waiting. It’s been almost two and a half years, ”said Breanna Gouveia, who was fired in April 2020.

During a briefing from the State House Committee on COVID-19 Economic and Financial Preparedness, State Representative Richard Onishi said, “We hear that there are former hotel employees who are not being reinstated or hotels are not being reinstated, but our attendance numbers are up and many Hotels are very successful. “

But Bonham said it will take time for hotel jobs to recover.

“These companies lost a huge amount of money during the pandemic. One of the ways to recover is to generate income without incurring any short term costs, ”he said.

Many of the workers who were not reinstated work in housekeeping, which the hotels had to dismantle.

Many others work in hotel restaurants or catering establishments that are not fully reopened.

“Most of the hotels we know of opt-in and opt-out for room cleaning. CDC guidelines … state that guest rooms that are occupied by the same customer for several days should not be cleaned daily unless requested, ”said Mufi Hanneman, CEO of the Hawaii Lodging and Tourism Association.

However, some workers said low staffing levels hurt the visitor experience.

“They force (visitors) to order the Uber Eats type stuff and that stuff is left in the hallway because there is no daily cleaning,” said Jason Maxwell, a laid-off hotel worker.

“So the garbage is piling up in the hallways.”

Hotel experts predict that the job market will rebound over the next year as group and business trips to Hawaii improve. However, the job market on the neighboring island is extremely tense, business organizations said.

For example, on Maui, a recent survey found there were more than 550 job vacancies.

“We hear hotels (general managers) helping restaurants by occupying tables and sometimes helping clean pools,” said Pamela Tumpap, president of the Maui Chamber of Commerce.

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