“That’s aloha”: Can Hawai’i’s tourism imbalance ever be fixed? It depends who you ask

“We went from six million tourists in 2009 to 10 million in 2019,” says Dr Jerry Agrusa, professor at the School of Travel Industry Management at the University of Hawaiʻi’s Shidler College of Business in Mānoa. “That’s a huge increase. Every day in Waikīkī, there’s about 80,000 tourists.”

Over the decades, the tourism juggernaut has grown to represent the largest single source of private capital for Hawaiʻi’s economy. In 2019, visitor spending hit USD$17.75 billion, a sum that directly supports 216,000 jobs. Each year between 2015 and 2019, an average of 48,682 Native Hawaiians (almost 20 percent of total workers) were employed in tourism intensive industries.

Jerry has lived in Hawai’i since 1989 and has spent decades researching the impacts of tourism. He shares that staying in hotels instead of Airbnbs or other short-stay rentals—which are fueling resentment among locals as rental prices skyrocket—will help to avoid contributing to Hawaiʻi’s housing crisis. “A normal person can’t buy a home,” says Jerry. “There’s 27,000 short-term rental units in Maui. It’s a disaster.”

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