STAR-BULLETIN / 2005
Sea Life Park visitors clap as a porpoise goes through training routines, part of an enhanced Dolphin Interaction Program at the facility. The park, owned by Mexico's Dolphin Discovery, said yesterday it has laid off 49 of its 270 workers.
Sea Life Park cuts 18% of staff
Forty-nine employees could return to work for the holiday crowds
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Sea Life Park has laid off 49 mostly hourly employees in what officials are calling a seasonal adjustment.
Prior to the layoffs the park had 270 workers, which it says was the highest employment level in its history.
In a statement yesterday, the park said it plans rehire staff later when business picks up closer to Christmas.
Attendance at more mature attractions such as Sea Life Park is either steady or slightly down, according to the Activities and Attractions Association of Hawaii. However, in general, revenue is either steady or slightly higher due to price increases, said Toni Marie Davis, association executive director.
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Sea Life Park has laid off 18 percent of its work force, or 49 predominantly hourly employees.
In a statement issued yesterday in response to Star-Bulletin queries, officials called the Wednesday move a seasonal adjustment to deal with the slower months leading into the Christmas high season. The park intends to rehire staff when its peak period returns.
Prior to the layoff, the park employed 270 workers, which the statement said reflected the highest employment in the park's history.
The park opened in 1964 and has suffered through tourism downturns and the bankruptcy of a previous owner. It was purchased in 2005 by Mexican-based Dolphin Discovery, which operates attractions primarily in its home country.
Sea Life Park's work force is not unionized, but Unite Here! Local 5, the union that represents many Hawaii visitor industry workers, has not seen seasonal layoffs recently, said Cade Watanabe, spokesman.
However, the owner of the Pacific Beach Hotel, HTH Corp., has blamed declining visitor counts in Waikiki in its dispute with that hotel's union, ILWU Local 142, over staffing levels in connection its Dec. 1 management change.
Hawaii's visitor industry goes through so-called "shoulder seasons," or times of year when the visitor count would appear as valleys, as opposed to peaks, on a graph.
Toni Marie Davis, executive director of the Activities and Attractions Association of Hawaii, said that at Hawaii's more mature attractions -- such as Sea Life Park, the Polynesian Cultural Center and Dole Plantations -- "their numbers, from my discussions, are either steady or slightly down (year over year), but their revenues are holding steady or are a little up because many have increased prices."
Detracting from revenues, however, are higher hotel room rates. "It's thought that that is affecting the expenditures with the visitors," Davis said. "They have less so they're doing less."
Davis said it is difficult to generalize for her entire membership because it is so diverse.
Oahu's activities and attractions sector of the visitor industry "is in a bit of a running-in-place" situation, while newer, trendier activities and attractions tend to do better, she said.
The businesses that offer something that is "new, cutting edge, a little bit more immersed in culture or education or the agri-tourism, adventure tourism, where visitors are walking away from it being somehow enhanced, that seems to be doing really well. And those are very sustainable types of activities," she said.