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How Much Of Hawaii’s Economy Is Dependent On Tourism


Modified: December 28, 2023

by Dacia Pounds



Hawaii, with its stunning natural beauty, tropical climate, and rich cultural heritage, has long been a dream destination for travelers from around the world. The archipelago’s unique blend of pristine beaches, lush rainforests, and active volcanoes offers visitors a breathtaking experience unlike any other. In fact, tourism has become the lifeblood of Hawaii’s economy, playing a vital role in driving economic growth, job creation, and revenue generation.


From the bustling streets of Waikiki to the remote shores of Maui, the tourism industry thrives, catering to the diverse needs and preferences of millions of visitors each year. As the industry continues to evolve and adapt to changing trends and preferences, it is important to understand the significant impact it has on Hawaii’s economy and the challenges it faces.


In this article, we will delve into the importance of tourism in Hawaii’s economy, exploring key statistics on the tourism industry and its impact on the state’s GDP. We will also examine the employment opportunities generated by the tourism sector and the revenue generated from tourist spending. Additionally, we will discuss the challenges and risks associated with Hawaii’s dependence on tourism and the efforts being made to diversify the state’s economy beyond this sector.


So, let’s embark on a journey to discover the economic significance of tourism in Hawaii and gain insights into the various aspects that contribute to its success and sustainability.


Importance of Tourism in Hawaii’s Economy

Tourism plays a crucial role in Hawaii’s economy, acting as a major driver of economic growth and development. The stunning landscapes, vibrant culture, and warm hospitality of the Hawaiian islands attract millions of tourists each year, contributing significantly to the state’s overall prosperity.


One of the primary reasons tourism is vital to Hawaii’s economy is its ability to generate substantial revenue. The influx of visitors stimulates spending on accommodations, dining, transportation, attractions, and various other goods and services. This creates a ripple effect throughout the local economy, benefiting not only businesses directly involved in the tourism industry but also those in related sectors such as retail, construction, and transportation.


Furthermore, tourism serves as a catalyst for job creation in Hawaii. The industry offers employment opportunities to a diverse range of individuals, from hotel staff and tour guides to local artisans and cultural performers. According to the Hawaiʻi Tourism Authority, over 200,000 jobs are directly or indirectly supported by the tourism sector in the state.


Besides the direct economic impact, tourism also contributes to the preservation and promotion of Hawaiian culture and traditions. Through cultural festivals, performances, and educational programs, visitors gain a deeper understanding and appreciation of the local heritage. This not only preserves the unique identity of Hawaii but also helps to create a greater sense of pride and connection among the local community.


Moreover, tourism has a significant impact on infrastructure development in Hawaii. The need to accommodate increasing numbers of tourists has led to the improvement of transportation networks, the construction of new hotels and resorts, and the enhancement of recreational facilities. These investments not only benefit tourists but also enhance the overall quality of life for residents of the islands.


Overall, tourism serves as a critical economic engine for Hawaii, providing a steady stream of revenue, creating employment opportunities, preserving cultural heritage, and driving infrastructure development. However, it is important to acknowledge the potential risks and challenges associated with an economy heavily dependent on tourism, and the need to diversify to ensure long-term sustainability.


Key Statistics on Hawaii’s Tourism Industry

Hawaii’s tourism industry boasts impressive statistics that highlight its significance in the state’s economy. These figures offer a glimpse into the scale and scope of tourism activity in the Hawaiian islands.


One of the primary indicators of tourism’s impact is visitor arrivals. According to the Hawaiʻi Tourism Authority, in 2019, Hawaii welcomed a record-breaking 10.4 million visitors, surpassing the previous year’s numbers. This remarkable influx of tourists demonstrates the enduring appeal of the islands as a top travel destination.


The tourism industry also contributes substantially to Hawaii’s gross domestic product (GDP). In 2019, visitors to the islands spent a staggering $17.75 billion, according to the Hawaiʻi Tourism Authority. This spending includes expenditures on accommodations, dining, transportation, shopping, and various recreational activities. The revenue generated from tourist spending directly impacts the state’s economy, supporting businesses across multiple sectors and driving economic growth.


Another key statistic related to Hawaii’s tourism industry is the average length of stay for visitors. In 2019, the average length of stay was around nine days for overnight visitors and seven days for day trip visitors. This longer stay duration translates into increased spending and a greater economic impact.


It is worth noting that the tourism industry in Hawaii attracts visitors from diverse international markets. In 2019, the top five international markets for Hawaii were Japan, Canada, Australia, China, and South Korea. These international visitors contribute significantly to Hawaii’s economy, providing a boost to local businesses and the hospitality sector.


The tourism industry also supports a wide range of businesses and employment opportunities in Hawaii. From luxury resorts and boutique hotels to local tour operators and restaurants, the industry creates jobs for thousands of residents. As per the Hawaiʻi Tourism Authority, in 2019, the tourism sector supported approximately 216,000 jobs in the state.


Overall, the key statistics on Hawaii’s tourism industry demonstrate its substantial contribution to the state’s economy. The record-breaking numbers of visitor arrivals, the significant revenue generated from tourist spending, and the employment opportunities created in various sectors all underscore the vital role that tourism plays in Hawaii’s economic landscape.


Economic Impact of Tourism on Hawaii’s GDP

The tourism industry exerts a significant influence on Hawaii’s gross domestic product (GDP), making it a key contributor to the state’s economic prosperity. By attracting millions of visitors each year and generating substantial revenue, tourism plays a crucial role in shaping Hawaii’s overall economic landscape.


In 2019, tourism accounted for a substantial portion of Hawaii’s GDP. According to the U.S. Travel Association, the direct travel and tourism industry GDP contribution in Hawaii was $17.75 billion. This figure represents the total value of goods and services produced directly by businesses operating in the tourism sector. Additionally, when considering the indirect and induced impacts, the total contribution of travel and tourism to Hawaii’s GDP was estimated to be even higher.


The economic impact of tourism on Hawaii’s GDP extends beyond the direct spending by visitors. The industry has a multiplier effect, meaning that every dollar spent by tourists has a ripple effect throughout the local economy. For example, when a visitor spends money on accommodations, that revenue not only benefits the hotel but also the employees, local suppliers, and other businesses indirectly connected to tourism. This creates a chain reaction, resulting in increased economic activity and further contributing to Hawaii’s GDP.


Furthermore, the tourism industry in Hawaii generates tax revenue for the state. Taxes levied on hotel accommodations, car rentals, dining, and various tourist activities contribute to government coffers. This revenue is then utilized to fund public services, infrastructure development, and other essential initiatives that benefit both tourists and residents. Thus, tourism’s economic impact on Hawaii goes beyond its direct contributions to GDP.


To better understand the economic impact of tourism on Hawaii’s GDP, it is essential to examine the employment opportunities created by the industry. The tourism sector supports a vast workforce, ranging from hospitality staff and tour guides to retail workers and transportation service providers. These jobs contribute to household incomes, consumer spending, and overall economic stability. According to the Hawaiʻi Tourism Authority, in 2019, tourism directly supported approximately 216,000 jobs in the state, demonstrating its role as a critical driver of employment.


Overall, the economic impact of tourism on Hawaii’s GDP is significant and multi-faceted. The direct spending by visitors, the multiplier effect on the local economy, the generation of tax revenue, and the creation of employment opportunities all contribute to the industry’s role as a cornerstone of Hawaii’s economic growth and prosperity.


Employment Opportunities in the Tourism Sector

The tourism sector in Hawaii provides a wide range of employment opportunities, creating jobs for thousands of residents and contributing significantly to the state’s economy. From hotel staff and tour guides to restaurant workers and artisans, the industry offers a diverse array of careers within various sectors.


One of the primary areas of employment in the tourism sector is hospitality. Hotels, resorts, and vacation rentals require a range of skilled professionals to ensure the comfort and satisfaction of guests. These positions include hotel managers, front desk staff, housekeepers, concierge, and maintenance personnel. The demand for hospitality professionals remains consistently high due to the year-round influx of visitors to Hawaii.


Tourism also fuels opportunities in the transportation sector. As visitors explore the islands, they rely on various means of transportation, such as airlines, rental cars, taxis, and tour buses. This creates employment prospects for pilots, flight attendants, reservation agents, car rental employees, chauffeurs, and tour drivers. The transportation sector, with its diverse range of jobs, plays a crucial role in facilitating the smooth movement of tourists throughout the Hawaiian islands.


The dining and entertainment industry is another sector that benefits greatly from tourism. Restaurants, cafes, bars, and entertainment venues thrive on the patronage of both visitors and local residents. This leads to employment opportunities for chefs, servers, bartenders, sommeliers, musicians, performers, and event planners. The vibrant culinary and entertainment scene in Hawaii is an integral part of the tourism experience, offering unique and memorable experiences for visitors.


Tourism also creates artisanal and entrepreneurial opportunities. From local artisans selling handcrafted souvenirs and artwork to entrepreneurs offering guided tours or specialized services, small businesses find a niche within the tourism sector. These ventures not only tap into the demand created by visitors but also contribute to the overall cultural richness and diversity of Hawaii.


Moreover, the tourism industry indirectly supports employment in various sectors. Industries like retail, construction, and transportation benefit from increased tourism activity. Retailers experience heightened demand for local products, souvenirs, and luxury goods, requiring more sales associates and managers. Construction companies see a rise in demand for new hotels, resorts, and vacation accommodations, leading to employment opportunities for architects, engineers, construction workers, and project managers. Transportation companies and service providers also experience increased demand for their services, resulting in additional jobs in the sector.


In summary, the tourism sector in Hawaii offers a multitude of employment opportunities across diverse industries. From hospitality and transportation to dining and entertainment, the industry fuels job creation and provides a solid foundation for economic growth. The variety of positions available ensures that individuals with various skill sets and interests can find meaningful and rewarding careers within the tourism sector.


Revenue Generation from Tourist Spending

One of the significant benefits of Hawaii’s tourism industry is the substantial revenue generated from tourist spending. The millions of visitors who flock to the islands each year contribute to the local economy through their expenditures on various goods and services.


Accommodations, such as hotels, resorts, and vacation rentals, account for a significant portion of tourist spending. Visitors seek comfortable and convenient places to stay during their time in Hawaii, providing a steady source of revenue for the hospitality sector. Whether it’s a luxury beachfront resort or a cozy bed and breakfast, accommodations receive a substantial share of tourist spending.


Dining is another major area where tourists contribute to the local economy. From fine dining establishments to casual eateries and street food vendors, the diverse culinary scene in Hawaii caters to the varied tastes and preferences of visitors. The revenue generated from restaurants, cafes, and food trucks fuels economic growth and supports the local food industry.


Tourist spending also extends to transportation services. Visitors require means of transportation to explore the islands, leading to revenue generation for airlines, rental car companies, taxi services, and ride-sharing platforms. The need for efficient and reliable transportation options is vital in providing a seamless experience for tourists.


Recreational activities and attractions are also significant contributors to tourism revenue. Hawaii offers a wide range of activities for visitors to enjoy, such as snorkeling, surfing, hiking, and sightseeing tours. The revenue generated from these activities not only benefits the tour operators but also has a positive impact on the local communities and economies surrounding popular tourist destinations.


Shopping is another area where tourists contribute to Hawaii’s revenue generation. The islands are home to a plethora of stores, boutiques, and markets offering a variety of products, including local crafts, clothing, jewelry, and souvenirs. The unique and authentic shopping experiences available in Hawaii attract visitors eager to take home a piece of the islands, thus fueling revenue for the retail sector.


Finally, the revenue generated from tourist spending has a widespread impact on the local economy. It creates a ripple effect, as the funds are circulated to various businesses and industries. Local suppliers, farmers, artisans, and service providers all benefit from the increased demand and spending created by tourists, fostering economic growth and job creation.


Overall, the revenue generated from tourist spending plays a vital role in Hawaii’s economy. It supports businesses across multiple sectors, fuels economic growth, and contributes to the overall prosperity of the state.


Challenges and Risks in Hawaii’s Tourism Dependency

While tourism brings significant economic benefits to Hawaii, it also comes with a set of challenges and risks associated with its heavy dependency on the industry. These challenges can have a profound impact on the state’s economy and well-being.


One of the primary challenges is the vulnerability of Hawaii’s economy to external factors. The tourism industry is susceptible to global economic fluctuations, political instability, natural disasters, and health crises like the COVID-19 pandemic. Unforeseen events can disrupt travel patterns, leading to a decline in visitor arrivals and a subsequent downturn in the economy.


Another challenge lies in the potential negative effects on the environment. With millions of visitors enjoying Hawaii’s natural beauty, there is a strain on fragile ecosystems, such as coral reefs, hiking trails, and marine life habitats. Overcrowding, pollution, and unsustainable practices can degrade these natural resources, impacting both the environment and the appeal of the islands as a tourist destination.


Furthermore, the tourism industry’s heavy reliance on imported goods and services poses a risk to the local economy. Many hotels and resorts, as well as companies providing tourist services, rely on external suppliers to meet the demands of visitors. This dependency on imports undermines the goal of developing a self-sufficient and resilient local economy.


There is also the issue of seasonality in tourism. Hawaii experiences fluctuations in visitor arrivals throughout the year, with peak seasons bringing in high volumes of tourists and generating significant revenue. However, during the off-peak periods, businesses may struggle to maintain profitability, impacting employment and the overall stability of the economy.


Social and cultural impacts are another concern. The influx of tourists can lead to overcrowding in popular tourist areas, leading to a loss of authenticity and a strain on local infrastructure. Additionally, cultural commodification and misrepresentation can occur, as traditional practices may be commercialized and diluted to cater to tourists’ expectations.


Lastly, the high cost of living in tourist-centric areas like Waikiki and Maui presents challenges for local residents. Housing prices can soar due to demand from investors and vacation rental operators, making it increasingly difficult for residents to find affordable housing options. This creates social and economic disparities within the community.


Addressing these challenges requires a collaborative effort from policymakers, businesses, and the community. Initiatives that promote sustainable and responsible tourism, diversification of the economy, infrastructure development, and community engagement are crucial to mitigate the risks and build a more resilient and inclusive future for Hawaii.


Diversification of Hawaii’s Economy beyond Tourism

Recognizing the risks and challenges associated with heavy dependence on tourism, Hawaii has been actively exploring strategies to diversify its economy. Efforts are underway to reduce the state’s overreliance on the tourism industry and foster sustainable, long-term economic growth.


One area of focus for economic diversification is the promotion of agriculture and local food production. With fertile volcanic soil and a favorable climate, Hawaii has the potential to cultivate a wide range of crops. Investing in agricultural initiatives, supporting local farmers and ranchers, and promoting sustainable farming practices can not only reduce the state’s reliance on imported food but also create employment opportunities and bolster the agricultural sector.


Renewable energy is another avenue for economic diversification in Hawaii. The state is rich in natural resources such as solar, wind, and geothermal energy. By investing in clean and sustainable energy solutions, Hawaii can reduce its dependence on imported fossil fuels, promote environmental stewardship, and contribute to the development of a green economy. Initiatives to incentivize the adoption of renewable energy technologies and the expansion of solar and wind farms have already been put in place.


Technology and innovation are also emerging as key sectors for economic diversification. With a growing tech industry, the state is attracting startups and entrepreneurs who are driving technological advancements in fields such as software development, cybersecurity, data analytics, and renewable energy solutions. The development of innovation hubs, investment in research and development, and fostering a supportive entrepreneurial ecosystem are crucial to further stimulate growth in these sectors.


In addition, there is a focus on expanding the education and healthcare sectors as part of economic diversification efforts. Developing world-class educational institutions and attracting international students can create a knowledge-based economy while providing skilled employment opportunities. Similarly, investing in healthcare infrastructure, medical research, and medical tourism can contribute to both economic growth and improved healthcare services for residents.


Cultural tourism and the promotion of indigenous arts and crafts are also avenues for diversification. By highlighting the unique cultural heritage of Hawaii’s native population, the state can attract visitors interested in experiencing and supporting authentic local traditions. This type of tourism allows for the preservation of cultural practices, generates revenue for local artisans and performers, and fosters cultural understanding and appreciation.


It is important to note that diversification does not mean a complete departure from tourism. Rather, it involves creating a more balanced economy that is resilient to economic shocks and external factors. Tourism will continue to play a significant role, but by expanding into new sectors and encouraging entrepreneurship and innovation, Hawaii can build a diversified economy that provides stability, supports local industries, and enhances the quality of life for its residents.



The tourism industry in Hawaii has undoubtedly played a vital role in driving economic growth, job creation, and revenue generation. The stunning natural beauty, rich cultural heritage, and warm hospitality of the Hawaiian islands have attracted millions of visitors from around the world, contributing to the state’s prosperity. However, it is important to recognize and address the challenges and risks associated with heavy dependence on tourism.


Efforts to diversify Hawaii’s economy beyond tourism are underway, aiming to reduce vulnerabilities and build a more resilient and sustainable future. These efforts include promoting agriculture and local food production, developing renewable energy sources, fostering technology and innovation, expanding education and healthcare sectors, and highlighting indigenous culture and arts.


By diversifying the economy, Hawaii can reduce its exposure to external factors, such as global economic fluctuations and natural disasters. It can also create employment opportunities, promote environmental sustainability, and improve the overall quality of life for its residents.


It is crucial for policymakers, businesses, and the community to collaborate and implement strategies that foster economic diversification while still preserving the unique identity and charm of Hawaii as a premier tourist destination. By striking the right balance between tourism and other sectors, Hawaii can ensure a more stable and resilient future for its economy and continue to be a source of wonder and inspiration for visitors from all corners of the globe.