Tourism (but not much else) is booming in Hawaii. Here's why that's a problem

Tourism (but not much else) is booming in Hawaii. Here's why that's a problem
Published: Sep. 21, 2018 at 8:04 PM HST|Updated: Sep. 22, 2018 at 10:03 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Economists are seeing troubling trends in Hawaii's economy.

In a report from the University of Hawaii's Economic Research Organization, titled "Hawaii's Growth: Down, but Not Out," researchers point out that almost all of the growth in the economy remains in tourism. That means Hawaii is even more dependent on the fate of the mainland economy.

The report looked at economic data for the first six months of 2018.

Economics Professor Carl Bonham said Hawaii growth has either stopped or reversed in most sectors, including construction, military and government employment, while tourism grows despite a slight impact from the Hawaii Island eruption and devastating storms there and on Kauai.

"What we are seeing is lots of growth in accommodations and food service jobs and not a lot of growth in most of the rest of the economy," Bonham said.

Meanwhile, he points out the economic boom on the mainland is much more robust, attracting Hawaii residents away to greener pastures.

"People who live in Honolulu who may be aren't real happy about how expensive it is to live here they have great opportunities elsewhere," Bonham said.

The out-migration may be responsible for other trends, including falling rents, possibly due to less demand, and fewer people available to fill non-tourism jobs that do open up.

"So those things all sort of mesh together," Bonham said. "Less population growth, slower job growth, lower inflation, decline in rents."

As a result the overall economy will grow less than 1 percent, UHERO predicts, with tourism continuing to lead the way (mostly because the strong U.S. economy means more visitors to Hawaii).

"We are still seeing growth, it is still positive, but when the economy starts to slow down there is some risk that if tourism were to slow down significantly the rest of the economy would slow with it," Bonham said.

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