State: Hawai'i Tourism No Longer #1

Sep 25, 2017

Hawai'i Tourism: No Longer #1
Credit Wayne Yoshioka

Tourism is currently the largest employer in Hawai’i but its making way for other job opportunities for residents. HPR’s Wayne Yoshioka reports. 

Tourism -- the leisure and hospitality industry -- attracts nearly 9 million visitors and generates 2 billion dollars in state tax revenues annually.   But, State Director of Finance, Wes Machida, says tourism is no longer the dominant sector it used to be.

State Finance Director, Wes Machida.
Credit Wayne Yoshioka

“About 10 years ago, tourism represented about 33 percent of the Hawai’i economy.  Now it represents about 17 percent so there’s a lot more.  There’s private businesses, there’s hospitals, there’s the military, so really, it’s very diversified.  When people talk about tourism as being the sole economic driver, it’s not.”

Machida says 80 percent of the state’s revenue is derived from the general excise tax and income tax paid by Hawai’i residents.  Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism -- DEBEDT director -- Luis Salaveria -- says there are a number of promising ventures and job opportunities in the future.

Luis Salaveria, director, DBEDT.
Credit Wayne Yoshioka

“Aerospace and aeronautics are also two very, very promising areas.  Regardless of the sensitivities around such issues as the thirty-meter telescope, Hawai’i still remains one of the best places to observe the heavens.  Actually, Hawai’i might be a great place to haveworld-class training for aeronautics operations and maintenance too, as well.”

Salaveria says the state has been focusing on improving the infrastructure for businesses, attracting local and outside capital, and preparing the kind of workforce needed for a diversified economy.   Hawai’i Strategic Development Corporation president, Karl Fooks, says the state has attracted local and outside capital to create nearly 650 high-tech jobs over the last 6 years and is currently attracting attention in aquaculture.

“Hawai’i was instrumental in really jump-starting that shrimp industry.  Oceanic Institute early on developed these specific pathogen-free shrimp breeds, which then, we now export from Hawai’i globally to all the shrimp growers around the world, supporting more than $20-billion industry from research and development down here in Hawai’i to commercialization activity that was done.”

Fooks says the Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawai’i Authority – NELHA -- will host an aquaculture conference November 16thand host the national conference in 2020.

HSDC president, Karl Fooks
Credit Wayne Yoshioka

“The consumption of seafood has doubled on a per capita basis.  But the wild-caught resources are virtually flat.  They’re not going to grow any longer.  And so now, it’s gonna have to come from farmed resources.”

DEBDT director, Salaveria, says the state’s current investments will hopefully pay off.

“As a parent myself, I think that’s every parent’s dream is to have our children and our children’s children to have opportunities within our state to find jobs beyond just tourism.  Tourism will always play a significant role in our economy, but we want to provide other opportunities, too, as well.”

For HPR News, I’m Wayne Yoshioka.