‘We need you:’ Waikiki hotels scramble to fill 500 positions as international travel returns

“Where have all the workers gone? I still don’t know the answer."
Published: Sep. 14, 2022 at 3:56 PM HST|Updated: Sep. 14, 2022 at 4:53 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Properties are scrambling to fill more than 500 positions in Waikiki hotels to prepare for the return of Japanese visitors, business conferences and the holiday travel season.

“Where have all the workers gone? I still don’t know the answer,” said Chip Rogers, president and CEO of the American Hotel & Lodging Association.

“There’s a lot of people who aren’t working and you can see it in the numbers.”

Like many businesses in today’s economy, hotels are struggling with a labor shortage and an aging workforce. AHLA hopes better benefits and potential for career growth will entice new hires for the holiday travel season.

“Some other industries got a little ahead of us during the pandemic and offered higher wages faster and moving to things like ‘instant pay.’ Our industry has now caught up with that,” Rogers said. “Your ability to move up in our industry is better today than ever before because so many people left during the pandemic. "

Industry leaders said American leisure travelers fueled most of the rebound for hotels saw this summer.

Now they need staff to accommodate an expected influx of Asian visitors.

“In our hotels on Oahu, their business can be from 18% to 22%,” said Jerry Gibson, president of the Hawaii Hotel Alliance and vice president at BRE Hotels.

“So that is a big chunk of the business that we are totally missing at this point.”

The trade group expects Hawaii hotels to rake in $3.9 billion from leisure travel this year, slightly more than in 2019. Business travel revenue is also projected to rebound to $1.7 billion.

“We’re at about a 10% level of what the travel was from Japan in the past. And we expect that to start ramping up over the next couple of months,” said Jeff Wagoner, president and CEO of Outrigger Hospitality Group.

AHLA leaders say about half of Hawaii high school graduates are expected to stay in the state ― and they’re hoping to tap into that source of local talent.

“This laboratory that we have with resorts all over the state becomes a tremendous opportunity for every single resident that comes out of high school or that’s looking for some type of new career here in hospitality,” Wagoner said.

Jerry Agrusa, professor at UH Shidler College of Business’ School of Travel Industry Management, says he’s seen a 300 percent increase of students in the hospitality and tourism management graduate programs.

He says UH is helping to build a pipeline of management talent for the local industry, but hotels need to offer more incentives to address the current labor crisis.

Another idea, he says, is to ask current employees to refer friends and family for open positions.

Rogers said hotels are hiring anyone who shows up.

“We want you and we need you,” he said.

“And so if you’re thinking about where’s my next role, and you want to try something that is fun, that can take you places around the world and where you get paid pretty well, give us a shot.”