Economic Challenges and Changes
One result of statehood was a huge rise in tourism. In 1963, the visitor total went over 400,000 for the first time. This increase started a boom in real estate and building. New hotels kept going up in Waikīkī. Honolulu’s skyline began to have a new look, and the tempo of life speeded up. Not all islanders welcomed these changes, and some were afraid that Hawai‘i was being spoiled. Others argued that the changes would work to help everyone and improve the economy; tourism would bring jobs. Some people would have liked to see Hawai‘i the way it used to be with fewer people, but others wanted even more growth. If more and more people come to Hawai‘i, it will be harder to find space for everyone and still keep Hawai‘i’s beaches, mountains, and air clean.
Jet service to Hawai‘i from the mainland began in 1959 with statehood. The first Boeing 747 landed in 1970, bringing the Pacific to the jumbo jet age of flying. By 1975, travel from the West Coast to Hawai‘i was twenty times faster and fifty-seven percent cheaper than it had been forty years before. By 1977, there were over 3.4 million visitors to Hawai‘i, four tourists for every resident. By 1976, money from tourism was greater than money earned from defense, sugar, and pineapple combined. Tourism now brings in over one-fourth of Hawai‘i’s income and over one-third of its jobs.
Even so, the economy in Hawai‘i shared the same downturn that took place in the entire United States beginning in 2008. Hawai‘i is one of the most expensive U.S. and even world cities to live in, but jobs were lost and the state government found itself in great debt. As a result, there are increasing numbers of homeless adults and children who live in tents, in cars, or on the streets of Hawai‘i. Many businesses had to close. Aloha Airlines, flying since 1946, went bankrupt and ended operations on March 31, 2008. The sugar and pineapple industries, once the basis of Hawai‘i’s economy a hundred years ago, all but disappeared by 2010. And tourism took a dive with the recession of 2008.
Sugar mills closed year by year. There was one remaining and functioning sugar plantation on the island of Maui, but by 2011, Maui’s Hawaiian Commercial and Sugar Company was looking to convert its plantation land to the growing of biofuels. In fact, throughout the islands, more and more individuals and businesses are focusing on “green” industries such as solar, wind, and geothermal power with the hope to transform Hawai‘i’s dependence on fossil fuels and to create businesses that are less reliant on the places outside these islands.
There is hope for success in other ventures. The growth of the film and television presence in Hawai‘i, with productions such as Lost and the new Hawaii 5-0 help Hawai‘i with its economy and with its image worldwide. The 2011 movie “The Descendants” won many awards.