I am president of the Ocean Tourism Coalition, which represents over 300 charter boat companies in Hawaii.
Because of the shutdown, many of us laid off most — if not all — of our workers. In the industry, easily two to three thousand people have been laid off. If we can’t profitably operate soon, there will likely be a massive outmigration of specially trained workers. Only jobs can stop that.
Although the governor recently announced reopening commercial ocean activities, several restrictions make that virtually impossible for 99% of the industry.
For example, only 10 people are allowed per boat, including the captain and crew. That might be fine for small companies, but most of these vessels are licensed to carry dozens of passengers safely. We already follow Coast Guard rules for pandemic safety, so I don’t understand why there’s this extra layer of regulation.
Per the current guidelines, food must be served in individual prepackaged servings. Food is a key part of the cruise experience. Imagine a sunset dinner cruise with PB&J sandwiches! Our caterers and vessels have the same food and liquor permits as restaurants, so why not let us serve fresh food?
Aside from that, we need a specific target date to reopen mainland tourism. Our industry can’t turn on a dime. We need time to rehire our workforce and put them through specialized training and licensing. At this point, we can only hold on. Even if it’s bad news, just give us a date so we can plan.
The charter boat industry is capital and labor intensive. Most companies are family-owned, having been part of the community for decades. These companies can’t feasibly operate without tourism anyway. But if something isn’t changed, we won’t be able to operate even after tourism comes back.
Jim Coon, President
Ocean Tourism Coalition