Maui County’s unemployment rose to 35% in April, the highest rate in the state due largely to the massive impact of the coronavirus on the tourism industry.
The economic collapse is a stark reminder there is a price to pay for Maui’s dependence on tourism, which Mayor Mike Victorino estimates supplies about one in three jobs, The Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported Sunday.
"We built our economy on agriculture and hospitality industry, which is bar none the most lucrative economic base that people could see,” Victorino said. “Now we need to look at what other types of occupations or businesses that we can start that are not directly tied into the tourists.”
Maui visitor arrivals rose from 1.8 million in 2009 to 2.9 million in 2018, a 54% gain that was the largest increase on any island.
Maui visitor arrivals in 2019 rose more than 5% to 3.1 million and spending increased more than 2% to $5 billion.
Before coronavirus fears and government health restrictions devastated Hawaii’s tourism, Maui was the state’s top hotel market. In April 2019, Maui was tied with Honolulu for the lowest unemployment level in the state.
Recently more than 1,500 unemployed Maui hotel workers from three top resorts turned out to collect food packages paid for by their owner, Host Hotels & Resorts.
They included employees of Andaz Maui at Wailea, the Fairmont Kea Lani and the Hyatt Regency Maui Resort and Spa.
“The unemployment rate is just devastating,” said Michael Jokovich, area vice president of Hyatt Hotels Hawaii. “We’ve got 486 out of 518, (more than) 90%, out of work at the Andaz Maui alone."
Victorino expects tourism will remain Maui’s top economic draw. But even before the pandemic, efforts were underway to create more jobs that were not reliant on the visitor industry.
“We realized we were dependent and that our natural resources were really being taxed way over capacity,” he said. “This pandemic forced our hand.”
For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death. The vast majority of people recover.