After suffering the worst spike in unemployment among all 50 states, Hawaii's economy is roaring back with a recovery that's fittingly outshining them all.
Bouncing back from a strict lockdown that decimated the state's tourism industry after blocking nearly all travel to the island, Hawaii has seen tourists return at a far faster rate than expected, according to Lt. Gov. Joshua Green.
"When people thought it would take us several years to get back, I knew that wasn’t right," he told Yahoo Finance Live Wednesday. "We’re already fully back with our numbers.”
Domestic travelers to the Aloha State have indeed topped 30,000 a day — good enough to even surpass 2019 levels — according to Hawaii's Department of Business, Economic Development & Tourism. The bounce back has been so severe, many hospitality companies have struggled to find staff to accommodate the swell of travelers. As Bloomberg recently highlighted, staff shortages at many hotels have even forced some bellhops into double duty to working the front desk as well, managers into wearing many hats, and caused a run up in prices for island activities.
Lt. Gov Green said he expects labor shortages to work themselves out by the fall when businesses will start to see workers get back into the flow of things as unemployment benefits expire and vaccination rates move higher. As of now, the state sits around a 57% vaccination rate. Risks around still getting COVID could still be preventing some workers from coming back, he said.
Nonetheless, the rate of infection on the island has been among the lowest in the country. Thanks in part to travelers having to show a negative COVID test since the state implemented its "Safe Travels" program, Hawaii has suffered the lowest number of deaths per capita in the country during the pandemic. Green, who also practices on the island as a medical doctor, is now pushing the state to relax its travel restrictions to allow travelers to show their vaccine status instead of a negative test or quarantining for 10 days. That change in policy is likely to take effect as soon as Hawaii vaccinates 60% of its population.
"We don’t have COVID here practically at all right now because of the pretty extreme precautions we’ve taken, but economically we’ve recovered about two years faster than we had expected when we last spoke," he said.
As Yahoo Finance highlighted back in February, Hawaii was already proving to be a case study in re-opening as travel was bouncing back and the state's insured unemployment rate fell back from a nation-worst of 21% in September to under 5% by February.
Now, as Hawaii prepares to open without requiring negative tests for travelers who can show they have waited 14 days after being fully vaccinated, Green thinks the comeback will only gain steam.
"We’re kicking butt now," he said. "In other words, we survived. People are now actually beginning to thrive."