Tourism drop affects Polynesian Cultural Center

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    By Summer McCann

    The Polynesian Cultural Center may not be a ghost town these days, but it”s getting close.

    The tour guides are idling, the concessions stands are closed and only one of the center”s five restaurants is still open.

    “It seems like they are really trying to cut back,” said Jessica Rice, a BYU-Hawaii student who works at the Laie, Hawaii-based Polynesian Cultural Center.

    And BYU-Hawaii students — 500 of who work at the center — are taking the brunt of it, losing jobs or assuming shorter shifts.

    “I was put on call for a month before I started working again,” Rice said. “I was one of the lucky few who got their job back.”

    Welcome to life after Sept. 11 in Hawaii. The World Trade Center towers may be five time zones away, but the ripple effects of terrorism have hammered the islands.

    “Visitor arrivals are down statewide in Hawaii,” said Blaine Jacobson, vice president of marketing for the Polynesian Cultural Center. “There are 30 percent fewer tourists in Honolulu right now then there should be.”

    The Polynesian Cultural Center has seen similar declines: tourist visits have dipped 25 percent.

    And BYU-H students are feeling the pinch. Of the approximately 800-900 employed students, 500 of them work at the Polynesian Cultural Center, said Norma Te”o, who works in the human resources and financial aid office of BYU-H.

    “After the terrorist attacks, things started to get really slow at the Polynesian Cultural Center,” Rice said. “A lot of students who worked there lost their jobs.”

    Part-time students who normally work 19 hours a week have been put on call. Those who were able to keep their jobs have had their hours cut to 12 hours a week, Jacobsen said.

    The Polynesian Cultural Center has managed to keep all the sponsored students — international students who work at the center in exchange for BYU-H tuition — employed, Jacobsen said.

    “The sponsored students make up over half of our total employees,” Jacobsen said.

    The post-Sept. 11 swoon has forced some students to scramble for jobs in a tight market, Rice said.

    “This is a small town, and there aren”t very many places to work around here,” Rice said. “A lot of students who can”t find jobs have had to take out student loans for the semester,” Rice said.

    The Polynesian Cultural Center expects its visitor numbers to run below normal throughout the next calendar year, Jacobsen said.

    According to the Travel Industry Association of America, the number of tourists traveling internationally is expected to drop 13 percent this year.

    Airline travel is also down nearly 20 percent from what it was last year at this time, the Air Transport Association reported.

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