Slow economy hurts hospitality industry

Matt Defreitas
Matt Defreitas
Rita Ikeda
Rita Ikeda

By Leland Kim - bio | email

WAIKIKI (KHNL) - The economic slowdown continues to impact our state, which is so dependent on tourism.

Hawaii's unemployment is at 3.8 percent, more than a full percentage higher than it was a year ago, according to the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics.  Among the hardest hit is our hospitality industry.

We're at the peak of our busy summer months, but Waikiki is not as busy as it was last year.  Hotel occupancy is down by as much as 30 percent and even regular visitors are seeing a change.

It's another picture perfect day in Waikiki.  Gorgeous views like this keep folks like Matt and Yvonne Defreitas coming back again and again.  They've been here close to forty times.

They've usually elbow to elbow with other tourists, but it's a different experience this time around.

"It's a lot less crowded," said Yvonne Defreitas, a visitor from Washington state.  "I mean, here it is 2:30 pm and it probably took all morning before it even got this crowded."

Empty hotel rooms mean a lot fewer people are visiting Hawaii.

"When we got here, we had a couple of people ask us if our plane was full," said Matt Defreitas, Yvonne's husband.  "I hadn't realized.  I guess tourism is down.  And our plane wasn't full."

Hotel employees have also noticed the slowdown.

"I've seen the Japanese come a lot," said Rita Ikeda, a hotel employee for 22 years.  "They've disappeared for a while."

Empty rooms and higher energy costs mean, it's a lot tougher to pay for expenses.  Some Hawaii hotels have been forced to reduce expenses to stay afloat.

"The bad thing is that the layoffs are there," said Ikeda.  "We cannot foresee layoffs."

It's tough for hotel employees and people visiting our state.

"I recently retired so I have to more or less budget what I'm going to do and where I'm going to go," said Matt Defreitas.  "And I think most people are in the same position.  It's tough right now."

Weathering a tough economic storm.

Even with the recent spike in unemployment numbers, we're still below the national average, which is hovering just below six percent.

Some hotel workers we spoke to say they're optimistic things will pick up again.