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Tourism comes roaring back in Hawaii

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A photograph of Waikiki Beach in Hawaii.

In Hawaii, around 30,000 visitors have been landing every day, which is approaching regular travel season numbers. Marco Garcia/Getty Images

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Just as summer gets underway, domestic tourism is bouncing back, but the labor supply can’t yet meet demand. American Airlines, for example, canceled hundreds of flights this week due to staffing shortages.

Even so, in Hawaii, around 30,000 visitors have been landing every day, which is approaching regular travel season numbers. The hospitality industry and the local businesses who rely on it are grateful but are struggling to keep up.

Just months ago, Hawaiian beaches were deserted, said University of Hawaii hospitality professor Jerry Agrusa. “And then the wave came. It’s a wave of tourists right now.”

That’s partly due to vaccinations and international travel restrictions. Hawaii is less of a hassle for Americans than, say, Paris, Agrusa said.

But now there’s a labor crisis. Unemployment in Hawaii soared during the pandemic, yet these days restaurants and hotels are scrambling to rehire.

“What happened is a lot of people left the industry, a lot of people left the island,” Agrusa said, referring to Oahu.

There, near, Waikiki Beach, is a cafe called Moke’s Bread & Breakfast. Owner Keola Warren said customers are lining up, and he’s scouring Craigslist looking for employees. “I ran ads for two months straight and got two applicants and neither were qualified for any of the positions they applied for,” he said.

Warren has scaled back the menu and hours. He’s not expecting the rush to cool off this season.

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