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Maui’s Tourism Toll Is Heaviest Among Counties

Casey Harlow / HPR

While the entire state of Hawaii has suffered from the shutdown of tourism, one area has been hit the hardest.  

According to Rod Antone, executive director of the Maui Hotel & Lodging Association, Maui received a record 3 million visitors in 2019. This was enough to support, as of last August, 13,000 jobs in the accommodations industry and more than 10,000 in the restaurant industry. As of May, the most recent full month for which data is available, it was down to 2,600 jobs in accommodations and 4,300 in restaurants. In fact, the Kahului-Lahaina-Wailuku metro area has had the highest unemployment rate in America.

Antone was one of five Maui business leaders on a recent panel discussion PBN held to learn more about the impacts of the shutdowns. Pamela Tumpap, president of the Maui Chamber of Commerce, says the chamber used to estimate that tourism trickled down through 75% of the county’s economy, but seeing the devastating and far-reaching impact of this near-total and sustained closure, that’s likely an underestimate.

For example, Maui Ku’ia, another business on our panel, was just getting started with a cacao farm and a multi-million factory to produce 100% Maui-made chocolate. It’s an example of the kind of diversified agriculture that’s often touted as an alternative economy Hawaii should develop. However, distribution through hotels and restaurants had been a central component to Maui Chocolate’s business plan. Until those reopen fully, this new brand will be trying to establish itself online instead, without the Maui experience to help.

According to Tumpap, Maui ag overall has been struggling, as feeding all those visitors fresh farm-to-table ingredients had been what made their operations sustainable and accessible to Maui’s roughly 144,000 residents.

A. Kam Napier is the editor-in-chief of Pacific Business News.
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