HONOLULU (KITV) -- A new report released Thursday forecast more than half of Hawaii's hotel rooms will remain empty this year and the industry blames COVID-19.

The American Hotel and Lodging Association paints a scary outlook for Hawaii in its latest 20-page report. It says the Aloha State stands to be the hardest hit state in the country because tourism as an industry is suffering.

Almost all trips to the islands require air travel, and because of COVID-19, the number of potential visitors is limited. Kekoa McClellan works for the association in Hawaii. The group represents more than 100 properties across the state. He was not surprised by the latest findings. "We knew it was going to be a difficult report for the nation,” McClellan said. "For all of 2021, this pandemic is going to continue to hurt the pocketbooks and livelihoods of many kama'aina families."

McClellan is concerned but optimistic. He believes more than 24,000 jobs in hotels will return this year but that's only 54% of all jobs available pre-pandemic. "It will depend on the properties, it will depend on the visitors and it will depend on our ability to open up rooms and welcome guests safely,” McClellan said.

McClellan says the decision on when and how many staff will return to work depends on the hotel's occupancy. “Take a restaurant at a hotel for example on hotel property. If I'm at 20% occupancy and my hotel has seven restaurants, there is not a need for probably more than a single restaurant,” McClellan said.

Unlike those who travel within the mainland, McClellan believes the reason to come to Hawaii is different. "Across the country, business travel is the largest source of bookings for hotel properties. In Hawaii, we tend to see a lot more leisure travel,” he said.

There is some good news. Because hotels want more business, McClellan believes more companies will offer special discount prices.

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