Amid a ‘wave’ of visitor arrivals, Hawaii businesses scramble to expand operations

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Published: May. 29, 2021 at 5:34 PM HST|Updated: May. 31, 2021 at 5:45 AM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Memorial Day weekend marks the start of the summer tourism season. And this year, coinciding with the easing of restrictions nationwide, it’s meant a huge increase in visitors.

Jerry Agrusa, tourism expert at UH Manoa, said tourism is roaring back in Hawaii — at levels above even the most optimistic predictions. He said he simply didn’t expect for it to come back this quickly.

“I didn’t think it would come back the wave as big as it is this time,” said Agrusa.

After a difficult year, the tourism boom is good news for Hawaii businesses that rely on visitor dollars.

But in many ways, they were also caught off guard—and now they’re scrambling to beef up their staff to keep up with the influx of demand.

“Today we’re fully booked, tomorrow booked up already,” said Ivan Williams, board boy at Faith Surf School in Waikiki. “The next day I think we’ve got like one more spot open.”

Williams said they’re trying to accommodate as many people as they can.

“We’ll try to go like maybe like a week later, to like get them in there because we’ll just putting them in and they just keep coming,” said Williams.

During most of the pandemic, the school operated with a skeleton crew.

Now they’re trying to find more licensed instructors. But Williams said even that is a challenge.

“You need that blue card, you got to be certified,” explained Williams. “So you can be like the best surfer, but if you don’t have that blue card, then you shouldn’t be in the water teaching.”

Business is no different for Duke’s Waikiki.

Dante Kea, manager of Duke’s Waikiki, said they have been operating at 50% capacity as required. Wait times are regularly between an hour to an hour and a half.

While Mayor Rick Blangiardi awaits response from the governor regarding modifications to Tier 4, restaurants like Duke’s said increasing capacity would help.

“We would at least soften up our weakness a little bit and maybe allow us to get our guests in a little quicker,” said Kea.

The manager said they have been hiring weekly and training people in anticipation of the wave of visitors.

Meanwhile, Agrusa predicts that Hawaii is going to have a record year.

“And you can see the airline industry has been adding more and more flights to Hawaii direct flights,” said Agrusa. “By doing that, that’s how people can get here and the capacity on the planes are full.”

According to Safe Travels data, more than 114,000 visitors flew into Hawaii from Thursday through Sunday for the Memorial Day weekend.

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