UH report: Under ‘optimistic’ scenario, tourism might not fully bounce back for 5 years

UH report: Under ‘optimistic’ scenario, tourism might not fully bounce back for 5 years
Retail businesses on Oahu were allowed to begin reopening on Friday, and many did so — with a slew of new restrictions. Others waited, still putting together plans to help minimize the risk of coronavirus. (Source: Jonathan Saupe/Hawaii News Now)

HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - A new economic report predicts Hawaii could see a “moderate” return of visitors by late summer but that tourism levels aren’t likely to bounce back fully for at least five years.

And that’s under the optimistic scenario.

The Economic Research Organization at the University of Hawaii said “exceptional uncertainty" in the world economy and the fight against COVID-19 mean that the economic outlook moving forward is cloudy.

What is certain: It will take years for Hawaii’s economy to recover fully because of the tourism shutdown.

“Hawaii’s heavy reliance on tourism means that the local economy will lag behind the national pace of recovery progress,” the report’s authors said, adding that the pace of recovery depends on government policy.

“More direct federal support to states and counties is desperately needed, and hopefully some will be forthcoming. Regardless, the state needs to spend its available resources now to preserve companies, worker skills, and consumer and business finances,” the report continued.

The report’s optimistic scenario predicts businesses that cater to local customers could recover about 80 to 85% of their recent decline by the fall, and that two-thirds of job losses would be recovered by next year.

Under the pessimistic scenario, tourism doesn’t reopen until autumn and visitor arrivals end the year 70% lower than in 2019. That would cut real income by 6% and non-farm payrolls by nearly 20%.

By 2022, Hawaii’s unemployment rate would still be at about 9%.

So far, the state hasn’t released a timeline for reopening tourism — something that’s frustrated industry leaders. The governor, meanwhile, has said he’s working with his advisers to come up with a plan.

Meanwhile, the state’s own economists aren’t predicting that tourism resumes in earnest until September.

This story will be updated.

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