Well, who would’ve thought we’d be where we are today in the battle against COVID-19? The repercussions here in Hawaii have been clear. So let’s go over where Hawaii is at pandemic month four with no end in sight.
Hotels in Limbo
According to the Star-Advertiser, as of July 1, less than half of Hawaii’s top 270 hotels, timeshares, and condo-hotels (about 140) reopened. Some of them, like The Kahala Hotel, are focusing entirely on serving kama’aina guests with reduced capacities. Others, like the Surfjack Hotel, are betting on military and essential workers to keep their rooms filled. But, the continued uncertainty surrounding the pandemic and Hawaii’s rules means that, even those that are continuing to find success are facing an uncertain future. For example, the Surfjack says their bookings drop to 20% capacity later on in the year and is down to about nothing for 2021.
Given this uncertainty, some hotels were planning on remaining closed beyond the initial August 1 reopening date. Aulani, for example, was rumored to remain closed until sometime in September or October. And, now, about 90 of those 140 hotels that remain closed are saying they’ll do so beyond August 1.
One hotel in particular, Oahu’s vaunted Halekulani, announced that they’ll remain closed through July 2021. They state that the uncertainty was too much for them and that they’ll use the downtime to renovate and renew the property instead. The project was planned, including a complete closure, anyway, they just decided to accelerate their timelines given the current situation. Work is to include almost everything at the property, from mechanical systems to guestrooms, and even the restaurants. It’s the first major overhaul since the ’80s.
Attractions in Waiting
Most of Hawaii’s attractions remain closed. Yes, some, such as KoHana Rum, has reopened. But, even those that have reopened are running at limited capacities. The rest, though, won’t reopen until at least September 1 now. And, a growing number of attractions are even saying that they won’t reopen until hotels are back up around 50% capacity once again.
Some businesses, however, are running out of time. For example, Maui’s Surfing Goat Dairy is scrambling to find a way to sell more of its products via other, local channels. Otherwise, the Up Country farm won’t survive more than a few more months.
Visitors Still Coming
Despite the limited hotel choices, lack of attractions, and quarantine rules, visitors continue to arrive in Hawaii. And, their numbers are slowly, but surely, creeping upwards. It was only about a month and a half ago, that we were seeing an average of 300 to 350 visitor arrivals per day. Now? That number averages between 500 and 600 visitors per day, with peaks as high as 700. And, yes, those are purely visitors. If you look at total arrivals, including residents, military, and essential workers, we’re looking at a number closer to 2,000.
This continued uptick, of course, has residents concerned. Quarantine dodging in Hawaii is common. I mean, if you’re quarantine dodging, you’re probably also the kind of person that would travel here while sick too. What’s more, it’s really easy to dodge quarantine, as state officials do only one check-up call and that’s it. And even if they called more often, they’re calling peoples’ cell phones. How effective is that? It’s really easy to lie over a phone.
Thanks to this inability of the state to enforce existing rules, many residents are supportive of the decision to extend quarantine orders. In fact, according to a recent University of Hawaii study, about 80% of Hawaii residents support the extension of the ban.
Hotel Workers Aren’t Convinced
You’d think that, with record unemployment and the ending of Federal unemployment aid ending, that Hawaii’s hotel workers would be eager to get back to work, right? Not so. Many are still primarily concerned about the health and safety issues of reopening. Especially since Governor Ige’s administration has proven to be ineffective at ensuring visitors adhere to quarantine orders. What’s more, the workers wants hotels to do more to ensure their safety while on the job.
Amid the demands for increased safety, hotel workers are also demanding that hotels preserve jobs that existed pre-COVID too. And, you know, I get wanting to ensure as many jobs stay as possible, but it’s unrealistic to think that there won’t be any reductions. It’ll take years for tourism to recover to 2019 levels, so hotels won’t be able to afford to retain everyone they had before the pandemic.
Hawaii at Pandemic Month Four, Final Thoughts
Hawaii made great progress in containing the virus early on in the pandemic. But, as we began to reopen, everything went to hell again. And, now? We’re right back at where we started in regards to tourism. It’s frustrating and infuriating to think that, in the past four months, Hawaii’s elected officials haven’t been able to come out with some kind of a plan. Though, I guess it shouldn’t be all that surprising.