Though the coronavirus pandemic has devastated many states' economies, Hawaii is particularly suffering. The state has some of the country's highest unemployment levels, and a big reason has to do with tourism -- or a lack thereof.
In 2019, about 30,000 people arrived in Hawaii every day, and that number inched toward 40,000 during the summer travel season. But since the pandemic began, daily arrivals have dipped below 500, which is hurting the state's economy in a very meaningful way.
It's for this reason that a new program is being introduced with the purpose of reversing some of the damage the pandemic has caused. But will it be a boon to Hawaii tourism or simply a band-aid solution?
Hawaii's new remote work initiative
Hawaii needs bodies to stimulate its economy, so it's establishing what it calls a "Movers and Shakas" program that will offer free round-trip tickets to Oahu for out-of-state remote workers who are willing to live in the state for at least 30 consecutive days. Given the number of people who no longer need to report to a physical office building, setting up shop in Hawaii may be an appealing notion.
But participants can't expect to just do their regular jobs and then spend their remaining time lounging on the beach. Those granted those free tickets must commit to helping the state's economy -- specifically, by donating a few hours every week to a nonprofit where they can put their skills to good use. Interestingly enough, the program will accept not just remote workers throughout the country but also former Hawaii residents who wish to return to the state.
Will Hawaii's remote work program help tourism?
The point of this new remote work program is to help diversify and pump money into Hawaii's economy. But unfortunately, it may not be enough to dig the tourism industry out of its current hole, at least not initially. While bringing in remote workers could result in a boost in vacation home rentals -- those who arrive on the island will need a place to stay for their 30-day stints or longer -- that's just a drop in the bucket compared to the damage the pandemic has caused.
The fact that Hawaii has implemented rather strict travel rules isn't helping matters. Travelers who arrive in the state without a confirmed negative COVID-19 test are subject to a mandatory 14-day quarantine. Those who test negative, however, can avoid that.
But it's not just restrictions that may be keeping tourists off the island. The general economic crisis has hit a lot of people hard, and given that Hawaii is one of the most expensive states in the country to visit, it may not land at the top of the typical traveler's list so easily.
Of course, with a number of viable COVID-19 vaccines in the pipeline, we could see a revival of Hawaii tourism at some point in 2021, once those vaccines become widely available. But will Hawaii's new remote work program make a dent in the hole the tourism industry needs to dig out of? Maybe a small one, but ultimately, probably not much.
That doesn't mean the program is a bad idea -- pumping money into the economy and getting new participants in it is undoubtedly helpful. But from a pure tourism perspective, it'll take a lot more than a few remote work cohorts to save local hotels from going under.