Job and housing insecurity rise as Maui tourism disaster adds to devastation

By | November 6, 2023

Tourism reopened across Maui on Wednesday, but the economic fallout from Maui’s Aug. 8 wildfires, the deadliest in modern U.S. history, is still being felt and recovery is unlikely to come soon enough early to stem any problems.

Daniel Naho’opi’i, interim CEO of the Hawaii Tourism Authority, who asked Gov. Josh Green to declare a tourism emergency after Maui wildfires dealt a blow to County tourism Maui, said Thursday: “The emergency still exists and we are We are working to develop plans and we have already implemented some marketing and community support.

Naho’opi’i, who made his remarks during the State Department of Commerce, Economic Development and Tourism’s webinar titled “Pathways to Recovery: Tourism Updates,” was joined by the director of DBEDT, James Kunane Tokioka, and Shannon McKee, president of contractor HTA Access Cruise. .

The trio cited several lingering areas of concern for Maui’s tourism-dependent economy, which is now expected to take four years to return to pre-fire levels. Since the fire-affected West Maui region accounts for 15% of the state’s tourism, the downturn is also negatively impacting tourism results statewide.

>> Airfare bookings to Maui through March are still well below what they had been in historic 2022 and pre-pandemic 2019.

>> Maui hotel reservations increased slightly in October due to displaced residents, aid workers and disaster-related activities; however, reserves have since fallen negative compared to 2022, at least until September next year. Hotel reservations across the state follow the same pattern.

>> Lahaina Port is closed indefinitely. Some cruise ships visit Port Kahului; however, it is sometimes unavailable due to other ships, and some international ships are too large for the port. Ma’alaea Port could be created as a new tender for international cruise ships; however, the approval process would be lengthy and require a thorough assessment of the port and weather conditions.

>> More than 7,000 Maui residents have filed unemployment claims, some as a direct result of the wildfires, others due to the decline in tourism that followed.

>>Those who have lost their primary household income, primary earner’s wage, or public assistance are at risk of losing their current housing in the next six months or less.

Naho’opi’i said HTA has been involved in the disaster response since Aug. 8, when it suspended marketing to visitors and focused on evacuating visitors and supporting Maui and state emergency operations centers. HTA resumed marketing on August 21, and its board of directors on August 31 approved a $2.6 million short-term U.S. marketing stimulus plan for Maui, to be executed by the Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau, HTA’s contractor for its largest visitor source market.

HTA convened an Authorized Disaster Interaction Group and, on Maui, participated in various community meetings as well as cultural and awareness trainings.

HTA on Oct. 10 awarded SMS Research & Marketing Services Inc. a $99,659.65 contract to perform planning services for a messaging strategy and tourism recovery plan. HTA said SMS is expected to provide services to support its Authorized Disaster Interactions Group and staff “in developing a messaging strategy, tourism recovery plan and key learnings and recommendations for future planning.

SMS, which receives less than half of what HTA paid the service provider for its annual conference, is expected to facilitate up to nine in-person meetings on Maui with about 30 participants each for data collection and plan development , as well as a larger public community meeting with approximately 200 participants. They will also help raise awareness and promote HTA’s messaging strategy and campaign.

Keith Vieira, principal of KV & Associates, Hospitality Consulting, recommends investing more in Maui’s tourism recovery.

He said the “malama message” about caring for Hawaii and its people must be balanced with marketing that makes visitors feel welcome and shows why they should visit.

“If you’re putting out messages like, ‘Come, but be thoughtful.’ Be careful, this is not what people want to hear. While we want them to be thoughtful and aware of what employees have experienced, that’s not the message that brings people to Hawaii,” Vieira said. “I hope they consider a multimillion-dollar campaign.”

Vieira is calling for more investment in tourism, which has lost support in the state Legislature in recent years. He said that about a dozen years ago, almost 100 percent of the $100 million in Temporary Accommodation Taxes (TAT) went to tourism.

“Now we don’t get anything from a billion dollars, even if they allocate funds from other areas,” Vieira added.

“I always thought that 3 to 5 percent of revenue or 10 to 15 percent of taxes on temporary accommodation should be invested in marketing,” he said. “We are not keeping pace with other destinations. Americans who cancel their trips to Europe and the Middle East are booking in the Caribbean. We need this business.

Naho’opi’i said HTA and DBEDT are serious about Maui’s tourism recovery because revenue supports residents’ well-being and deficits carry over to the rest of the state.

For example, Naho’opi’i said a preliminary study on Hawai’i housing, which is part of HTA’s data on Maui’s tourism recovery, “shows that many of those who lost their primary returned to the tourism industry, within six months or more, it is highly likely that they will not be able to maintain their current address. These are people who may live outside the devastated area but who still do not have a job. Due to the work they do in the tourism sector, they cannot continue to receive a full income.

Naho’opi’i said the study showed that among people without income, only about 22 percent would be able to live with another family or find other housing.

He said “18% would prefer to settle on the continent.” This is what we are trying to avoid, both because we want to ensure that our Maui residents continue to work and that our families stay together. But also the fact that as our tourism industry begins to repair itself, there will need to be labor available.

Another key issue affecting Maui’s tourism recovery is that many West Maui hotel rooms are still being used to house displaced residents due to the lack of available medium- and long-term housing on Maui. The situation is untenable for displaced residents, especially those with families, crowded into hotel rooms or constantly on the move.

Although West Maui hotel occupancy has been bolstered by displaced residents, relief workers, and disaster-related activities, this type of hotel utilization is proving insufficient in the long term because it does not does not create jobs for as many workers nor generate as much visitor spending. This is especially true for small businesses, from shaved ice stands to art galleries to activities and attractions. The sensitivities of sharing a hotel with housed residents may also deter some visitors from coming.

Tokioka said the shortage of available housing on West Maui as well as the cost of housing fire survivors in hotels is unique to Hawaii and has created an unsustainable situation.

“You’re talking about hotel rates that are double, sometimes triple, the amount paid in Louisiana,” he said. “In Louisiana, we’re talking about $100 a night for a room. Here, it was much more than that.

For example, Tokioka estimated that the cost of a single hotel room per month on Maui at the FEMA rate is $10,600. He estimated that the cost rises to more than $26.5 million per month when the cost per room is multiplied by 2,500, which is still less than the number of rooms needed.

“This is not a sustainable program that the state, FEMA or the Red Cross can fund. So with all the different programs that the mayor is putting in place, that the state is putting in place, we’re trying to get people out of hotels and into other types of accommodation as quickly as possible,” he said. he declared.

Lahaina Strong, a Maui advocacy group, launched a petition to Maui Mayor Richard Bissen to use emergency powers to convert short-term rentals to long-term rentals for at least one year to house displaced Lahaina residents.

Tokioka said he and other officials were meeting with Maui vacation rental owners Friday in an effort to get more participation in disaster housing. He said another goal is to determine a fair rate for vacation rental owners and FEMA, which foots the bill and will have to justify Hawaii’s spending to Congress.

“Which takes as long as you can imagine, what happened on West Maui has not happened anywhere else in this country. When you look at the fires in Paradise or Katrina in Louisiana, those areas had more housing units available than we have here in Hawaii. West of Maui, it’s very expensive,” he said.

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