Hotel bankruptcies in Hawaii mean good deals for tourists


The Ilikai Hotel in Hawaii went bankrupt in February. This old hotel has been a mainstay with locals and tourists. Its closing shows how the recession affects the economy of Hawaii. It also means you could get a good deal on vacation there.

Right at the top of the Ilikai was a place called Annabelle’s, a place where jiving singles hung out every night of the week. The older ones, like my husband and I, got there early to dance to classics, have a drink or two or just talk with old friends. Anyone who was anyone ended up there, from the crown princes of politics to the entertainers along Kalakaua Avenue in Waikiki. To read about its bankruptcy was gripping for sure because it was there I was introduced by a girlfriend to the man I married four months later and have been married to for 25 years.

But this isn’t the first roller coaster ride for Hawaii and its hotels. I watched hotels knuckle under to Japanese businessmen who bought a bunch in the early 90’s when Hawaii had its own recession, something not experienced on the mainland. The economy of the islands may be connected with the mainland economy, but Hawaii’s economy has no special effect on the mainland. So from late 1991 until 1999-2000 the boom of real estate had gone bust. Now it has happened again, like it did in the early 80’s, the early 90’s and now.

I lived through those times, and remember 8 ½ percent unemployment rates in 1977, the year Barack Obama graduated from high school at Punahou. Hawaii coped by putting together a strategy to prevent mainlanders from slipping on over for a palm tree moment and then deciding to stay forever, without a job or permanent place. So the State declared that an individual had to live in Hawaii for one year before being able to work in any government job. It was soon declared unconstitutional, but until then it was not only the state but private employers that maintained those restrictions. I was caught in the net of that law and had to use multiple skills of writing, singing, teaching and telling funny stories to hang on, along with my sister and a few friends from college.

Hawaii is vulnerable to all sorts of things that affect tourism. After 9/11 hotels were nearly empty. The beaches were shown with only a few stragglers. It didn’t help that September is the time for the Kona winds, so rain and few breezes didn’t make paradise as special as it usually can be.

A bankrupt hotel in Hawaii isn’t new, but the Ilikai announcement is a jolt. What happens elsewhere may affect the economy somewhat, but hotel closures mean serious things for Hawaii, and that’s because of the importance of tourism to the local economy. Now is the time to make a trip to Hawaii since folks in the tourism observe hotels give seriously good deals when times are bad.

In the meantime I have taken out my wedding photos to reminisce this afternoon of a hotel full of romance and memories.