The Hawaii Travel Industry Is A Shambles And Why

First, we want to allay your fears. It’s not Hawaii that’s in ruins. Hawaii is awesome, always has been and always will be. Things here are going moderately well in the most unusual global and local travel circumstances we have ever experienced. But the industry is clearly in a much bigger state of upheaval than we would like to believe.

Our choice of words for this is “Shambles: a state of confusion, disorganization or disorder”. Here’s why that fits the situation.

Travel has often been described as the biggest industry in the world. This results in more than 10% of global revenue generation. In Hawaii it is proportionally much greater and directly or indirectly affects virtually all of us here. Travel may have accounted for 1 in 4 new jobs created before Covid globally, and even more so in Hawaii.

Hawaii travel demand still hasn’t fully returned to normal as we wait for international travel to fully resume. But even before fully returning to previous demand levels, it has clearly become a nightmare for industry players and for visitors to Hawaii.

Experts say we’re not even close to getting through all this upheaval. Recent examples here in Hawaii illustrate this. We’ve seen estimates that it could last another solid year or more.

Industry-wide staffing shortages are persistent. Whether it’s hotels, restaurants, activities or car rentals. For some reason, employees haven’t returned to the travel industry and there just aren’t enough of them. Those who have returned often face significant overtime in an attempt to make up for shortfalls. And it’s not working well for morale in the travel industry, among other issues.

Concrete example. As commentator Georgia said, they were stranded on the Honolulu tarmac for over 90 minutes because there were no personnel to provide a jet deck.

“Our Alaska Air flight 531 from LAX to HNL was on time, but we sat on the HNL tarmac for at least 1.5 hours waiting for the gate/jetway to become available so we could disembark. They told us it was a lack of staff.” Not a great welcome to Hawaii.

How and when will this be fixed? It is hoped that by next year, better systems and more people will be in place to help travel to Hawaii. Even then, do we really believe we can get back to the fluidity of things before Covid? This ship has probably sailed, and we can at best strive for a new experience better than what we have today.

What hasn’t changed is people’s desire to travel. But the way we travel is changing. Now is the time to dig deep for increased patience and readjusted expectations. We hope Hawaii travel will eventually improve into a higher quality experience. But in the short term, that just won’t happen.

1. Big problems with the airlines flying to Hawaii.

Why is it so difficult to get airlines back on track? Is there anything that can be done? Flight cancellations, delays, labor disputes and staff shortages seem to dominate airline news. UAL said: “Most airlines simply won’t be able to meet their capacity plans.” At Southwest, the airline cut nearly 20,000 flights from its summer schedule, including flights to Hawaii, with this reality in mind.

Airfares have risen more than at any time in the past 60 years. If it’s not about airlines and pilots, then the subject turns to airfares. Nationally, these have just seen their biggest increase in decades. According to financial analysts at Cowen, air fares jumped 50% in the last week of May, compared to a year earlier. Except for the occasional sale on very competitive routes, we see it on flights to Hawaii.

Airlines and pilots union disagree. While airlines say they don’t have enough pilots, the biggest pilots union says there is no shortage of pilots. Eh? ALPA said poor airline management, schedule cuts and “business decisions based on profit” are to blame for the pilots’ problems.

Alaska Airlines. Last month, Alaskan pilots voted to strike, and it’s awaiting preliminary stages. Alaska has seen a series of cancellations related to pilot shortages. They are in a bitter row with the pilots over their new contract and as a result dozens of Alaskan pilots are said to have switched to other airlines.

Hawaiian airlines. There have been several problems with the air carrier from Hawaii. This week, the airline experienced an unusually high number of flight delays, as we reported. Previously, Hawaiian canceled dozens of flights related to pilot shortages and an inter-island flight training simulator. The company is trying to add cockpit crew and has offered a $10,000 sign-on bonus and $81/hour starting pay for co-pilots.

Southwest Airlines: Prepare for June 21The airline has both a pilot shortage and a labor dispute. Next week, 1,000 or more pilots plan to demonstrate against SW at Love Field in Dallas.

United Airlines. The company says, “The pilot shortage for the industry is real, and most airlines simply won’t be able to meet their capacity plans because there simply aren’t enough pilots, at least not for the next five years. Five years and more, really?

Flights to Hawaii have been frequently delayed lately, and the future may also bring more cancellations. With no official word, the cause is likely insufficient staffing in a tight labor market.

Today, airline CEOs are meeting with US Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg about all the delays and cancellations.

Two US senators recently raised concerns about flight delays and cancellations over the Memorial Day holiday weekend.

We reported that on Sunday and Monday, 272 flights to Hawaii were delayed. And it’s not over. In Honolulu on Wednesday, another 53 domestic flights were delayed (25 Hawaiian, 17 Southwest, 9 United and 2 Delta. In addition, 3 United flights were canceled entirely.

How Airlines Work. These companies rely on a very complex combination of people and technology, and everything has to fit together precisely for operations to run smoothly. Staffing shortages in one area impact the entire operation. When something goes wrong, we see massive delays and then flights get cancelled.

When will this end? We would all like to believe that it will get better soon, but all we hear is that it won’t. It will take time to find, hire and train people, if that is still possible. An example of technology helping to a greater or lesser degree is the automation installed at Hawaii airports. We reported on improvements at Lihue Airport that are expected to reduce TSA staffing loads through greater automation with better results.

2. Hawaii hotels and Hawaii vacation rentals are at incredible prices!

We recently reported that hotels in Hawaii have the highest rates we’ve seen here. They also have the dubious honor of being the most expensive in the United States. Customer satisfaction is also down in the industry. Hotels in Hawaii first had to downsize during the pandemic. Then, when travel to Hawaii resumed faster than expected, they were caught off guard. Many staff did not return as new employees had to be added and trained. Thus, the guest experience may be less than expected, including at hotel restaurants and housekeeping.

One commenter said, “How can you afford to stay in a hotel in Hawaii? The usual $350-375 partial ocean view at the Big Island’s Waikoloa Beach Marriott is over $1,000 per night!”

Hawaii hotels and vacation rentals are also revamping technology, and online reservations are working better than ever, eliminating some of the need for prior human interaction. Over time, the result will be a leaner operation where customers can hopefully also achieve greater satisfaction. But as it comes to fruition, patience is a virtue.

3. Car rental in Hawaii. What more can be said?

With some of the highest prices in the country and availability recovering far too slowly, it’s been an albatross for visitors to Hawaii. Across the car rental industry as a whole, satisfaction is down, which is no surprise. Even looking at prices even out of season, the new low price seems to be close to $100/day.

4. Marketing goes wild: Hawaii Tourism Authority, HVCB and The Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement.

We reported on Hawaii’s marketing quagmire earlier this month as the state’s Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) abruptly canceled its 20-year marketing contract with the Hawaii Visitor And Convention Bureau ( HVCB) centenary. The contract was awarded instead to a nonprofit organization made up of members with no apparent experience in travel marketing, whose mission is “to enhance the cultural, economic, political, and community development of Native Hawaiians.”

Since this change was announced, there have been some weird and uncomfortable statements and emails from HTA and HVCB. Needless to say, no one is happy here, and we’ll be surprised if it can end amicably. We expect HVCB to challenge the new contract in the coming days.

But, looking at it another way, there have been a lot of issues and controversies at both HTA and HVCB for years. So any redesign can be a step in the right direction. This shift coincides with Hawaii’s implementation of controversial tourism destination management and marketing plans for each island.

We very much appreciate your contribution to this developing story.

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