HONOLULU (KHON2) — Nobody thought the industry would come back this fast. That’s the word from UH Manoa Travel Industry Management professor Dr. Jerry Agrusa, who said that the return of tourism in the islands has outpaced a sluggish return of workers.

“It’s a labor crisis,” Dr. Agrusa said. “Throughout all of the service industry, hotels, restaurants, tourism, as well as any type of retail. And this is not just in Hawaii but throughout the United States, but because we’re so dependent on tourism, and tourists, it is so much more noticeable.”

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The Hawaii Tourism Authority is now launching an industry survey to determine the type of job skills and training that are needed in the visitor industry.

Agrusa thinks this will help better match prospective candidates, including some of his students, with the industry.

“When you get a new employee, if you train them, they might not fit,” Dr. Agrusa said. “So you go through all that the cost of hiring, training, then they don’t fit. So if you have an employee that fits in it’s working and it’s been trained, you got to try to keep them.”

That has been a difficulty for many businesses. Dr. Agursa says many leave because of their superiors.

“The number one reason somebody leaves their job, maybe 80% of the time people leave their job, it’s their relationship with their supervisor or the manager the person right above them,” said Argusa. “Not for pay. Not for a better job. It’s that relationship.”

This is why he said his Travel Industry Management classes are working on developing managers who use aloha. He added that the pending return of Japanese travelers will require more of that as demand gets tougher.

“We still haven’t had that Japanese market that we had 1.6 million of them come in 2019,” he said. “You know, even if we just get half, that’s 800,000.”

Aside from making employment more attractive, there aren’t many more options available to fill the needs of guests and patrons.

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“Hotels are looking at robotics as a solution,” Dr. Agrusa said. “So even some of the restaurants are looking at that, but I don’t think that that’s going to be as quick a solution. I think the solution is going to be that we have to hire more people.”