Tag: Hawaiis

Local politicians and business owners criticize Hawaii’s new COVID-19 pre-travel policy

Last week, Hawaii Gov. David Ige tightened the state’s COVID-19 pre-travel plans, requiring all travelers to have a confirmed negative coronavirus test before arriving in the island nation.

The previous policy allowed travelers who had not been tested to quarantine until their test results came back. Under the new policy, travelers must show proof of a negative coronavirus test. Otherwise, they will be quarantined for two weeks, even if test results come back negative.

The policy change has upset local politicians and business owners, including Hawaii House Speaker Scott Saiki, according to the Honolulu Civil Beat. Some critics cite the island’s low infection rate of visitors and its recovering economy as reason enough to stick to the original policy.

“This doesn’t serve the public very well,” Saiki said in a bi-monthly meeting this past Monday of the Hawaii House Select Committee on COVID-19 Economic and Financial Preparedness.

Mufi Hannemann, the former Honolulu mayor who now heads the Hawaii Lodging and Tourism Association, said the tourism industry group had grave concerns. Hannemann alleged Ige’s administration had not consulted any of them in their decision making.

Following criticism, Ige released a statement on Monday saying the policy change was meant to protect the island’s residents and to prepare for an upcoming holiday season that was likely to see a greater number of travelers.

“While only a handful of visitors receive a positive test each day following their arrival, it was enough to compel us to make the policy change, especially as more people travel to Hawaii to celebrate the holidays,” Ige said in the statement. “We must take every precaution to ensure the safety of our community, and that our hospitals have the capacity to care for those in need of treatment.”

About 270,000 people had traveled under the original policy with only 44 arriving with a test pending that later turned out to be positive.

“It’s not a large number, but it’s enough to change the policy,” Ige said last week.

Just 44 of 270,000 is “a very, very, very small percentage,” said Ray Vara, the chief executive of the island hospital giant Hawaii Pacific Health. Vara also said he does not want to see the island’s economy worsen.

“Things are tough enough right now,” said Peter Ho, chairman, president and chief executive of Bank of Hawaii, adding that this new policy change is not helpful to the island’s recent economic recovery.

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Hawaii’s hotel industry is still struggling despite tourism reopening, and isn’t expected to break even in 2021

More than a year from now, Hawaii’s hotel industry won’t have stopped bleeding.

A new annual Hawaii hotel forecast prepared by STR for the Hawaii Tourism Authority estimates that by the end of 2021, statewide occupancy will have hit only 46.3%, still short of the 50% to 60% occupancy that the industry needs to break even.

Many of Hawaii’s hotels temporarily closed during the pandemic as government restrictions and fear of COVID-19 significantly reduced travel demand. Quite a number were open by Oct. 15, the start of the state’s pre-
arrival testing program under Safe Travels
Hawaii. But so far, Hawaii’s formal welcome-
back to travelers hasn’t filled hotel rooms to the degree that many had hoped.

About 75% of Hawaii hotels are operating again. Still, only about 1,000 out of 8,000 Unite Here Local 5 hotel members are back to work. Some 5,000 of them already have lost their health insurance, and most are facing the loss of other support programs just after Christmas.

Local 5 spokesman Bryant de Venecia said, “Most of our workers have lost health insurance. They really want to go back to work, but that’s really out of our control. We can’t control how many tourists will
occupy our hotels.”

“If we are going to recap 2020, we barely left square one. Our members are still struggling, still dealing with how to pay for rent and food and health care,” de Venecia said. “It’s just heartbreaking, especially right before Christmas. People need help now.”

Mufi Hannemann, president and CEO of the Hawaii Lodging &Tourism Association, said Hawaii hoteliers are languishing, too.

Hannemann cited a recent survey of American Hotel &Lodging Association members that estimated 7 in
10 hoteliers (71%) wouldn’t make it another six months without further federal assistance given current and projected travel demand, and 77% of hotels report they will be forced to lay off more workers.

“I don’t know if Hawaii is quite at 71%. We’ve got a number of foreign hotel owners who might be able to survive beyond that period. Still, I would reckon a good number of our properties are in dire straits,” Hannemann said.

Chip Rogers, president and CEO of AHLA, said in
a statement that Congress must move quickly to pass additional relief for U.S.

“Every hour Congress doesn’t act, hotels lose
400 jobs. As devastated industries like ours desperately wait for Congress to come together to pass another round of COVID-19
relief legislation, hotels continue to face record devastation,” Rogers said. “Without action from Congress, half of U.S. hotels could close with massive layoffs in the next six months.”

Rogers said U.S. hotels
already are expecting to face a difficult winter, characterized by a significant drop in travel demand — some 7 out of 10 Americans are not expected to travel over the holidays.

According to STR, U.S. weekly hotel occupancy has slipped further from previous weeks.

“After ranging between 48% and 50% occupancy from mid-July into the later portion of October, the last three

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Hawaii’s short-term vacation rental business is still showing signs of struggle since the recent lifting of the COVID ban

COVID-19 restrictions banning short-term vacation rentals just lifted on Oahu, which moved into Tier 2 of its economic reopening Thursday.

That means roughly 800 short-term vacation rental properties on Oahu, which had been sidelined by Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell’s pandemic restrictions since April 7, are now allowed to resume business like their neighbor island counterparts.

Short-term rentals, which rented for 30 days or less and weren’t being used to quarantine guests, have been allowed to operate on Hawaii island and Kauai and in Maui County since the middle of June, when the state’s first pandemic-inspired interisland quarantine was lifted. That didn’t change even after Aug. 11, when a partial interisland quarantine was reinstated for the counties of Kauai, Hawaii, Maui and Kalawao.

Still, it’s not exactly been smooth sailing for vacation rentals statewide, which have suffered from a COVID-19-related plunge in travel demand just like hotels, airlines and any other member of Hawaii’s visitor industry.

Overall, travel demand in September was still depressed significantly by the requirement that all out-of-state passengers abide by a 14-day self-quarantine. It wasn’t until Oct. 15 that the state launched a pre-arrivals testing program that allows some travelers to bypass the quarantine.

Even before the pandemic, Oahu’s short-term rental industry was more restricted than in other counties. Honolulu allows short-term rental lodging only in resort and certain apartment-zoned districts, unless the property is one of the roughly 800 or so that were issued a nonconforming use certificate back in 1989 and have maintained it.

Ordinance 19-18, otherwise known as Bill 89, created means for the city to issue roughly 1,700 permits to allow bed-and-breakfast homes to operate. However, there’s a bill to push back the start date for permits to Jan. 31 because of the pandemic.

In September, Caldwell didn’t yet consider Oahu short-term rental as essential businesses. But the isle’s owners and suppliers realized the highest, albeit still low, September occupancy statewide.

According to a report released Friday by the Hawaii Tourism Authority, using data from Transparent Intelligence, Oahu’s vacation rental occupancy for September fell to 14.5%, a 59 percentage point drop from September 2019. Oahu’s vacation rental supply fell more than 56% to 97,989 units. Oahu’s demand dropped to 14,160 units, but the nearly 92% drop wasn’t quite as steep as that experienced by Maui or Kauai.

September occupancy at Maui County vacation rentals decreased 68.8 percentage points to 5.4%. Maui’s supply declined more than 48% to 151,521, and demand dropped more than 96%, the most of any island, to 8,151.

Kauai’s vacation rental occupancy fell 62.3 percentage points to 5.6%. Kauai’s supply fell nearly 49% to 62,133, while demand decreased nearly 96% to 3,500.

Hawaii island’s occupancy declined 49.2 percentage points to 10.7%. Hawaii island’s supply dropped about 57% to 89,813, and demand decreased more than 92% to 9,620.

Despite the economic devastation that tourism lockdowns have caused Hawaii’s vacation rental industry, not all Hawaii residents support allowing them to operate during the pandemic, especially since the the Honolulu Department of Planning

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