Tovin Lapan
Tovin Lapan

Ever since Hawaii Gov. David Ige upgraded a 30-day "stay home" request to visitors with a 14-day mandatory self-quarantine for all arrivals to the Aloha State, Hawaii travel advisors, especially those based in and focused primarily on the Islands, have been scrambling to rebook clients and chart a course forward for their businesses.

Most have spent the last few weeks methodically working through their spring bookings, processing cancellations for April before moving on. There is hope that the measures in place to halt the spread of the pandemic will be eased in the following months, but many agents have already started to work on bookings for May. 

One thing most advisors agree on is that this crisis defies comparison to previous blows to the economy and tourism, and so much is changing so fast, they need to be prepared for any and all developments as the Covid-19 pandemic threatens to end a decade of year-over-year growth for Hawaii tourism.

"We were having a great year up until this point, and then everything ground down to a halt," said Paula Takamori, an Oahu-based agent. "It's been very difficult for travel agents. It takes a lot of time, effort and knowledge to pull together trips that are meaningful and special for clients. And now, it's just as much work to make cancellations, but we aren't getting paid."

As her free time starts to accumulate, Takamori is finishing up a social media course in order to bolster her online marketing chops, and several other advisors said they were following suit to use the crisis as a chance to bolster their business skills.

"I've been working on marketing courses and how to apply that to my tours," Honolulu advisor Keiko Mori said. "FareHarbor, the sales engine, is offering online training right now, and the hotels have also been offering some online courses and webinars."

Mori said she has been staying in touch with previous and current clients, checking in on their wellbeing while also reminding them that Hawaii and its pleasures will be there when the coronavirus crisis subsides. She has also been posting more to Facebook in order to maintain a presence with her clients and audience.

Hawaii advisors said they are taking a mix of actions for upcoming bookings, with some clients asking for complete cancellations while others have been willing to rebook in the fall, early 2021 or even this summer.

"I had one family that was scheduled to come on March 9, and they just wanted to move their trip to July," Mori said.

Takamori also said she is making an effort to stay active on social media and in touch with clients, without being seen as marketing Hawaii as a destination during the pandemic.

"It is a sensitive time, so you don't want the message to be 'everything is normal' or 'come to Hawaii,'" she said. "It's more about checking in with clients to see how they are doing, and letting people know that Hawaii is still going to be here when this is over. They just have to wait a little longer for their trip."

While several advisors said they are currently busy handling rebookings and cancellations, they expect to turn their attention at some point to planning for post-pandemic messaging -- the moment when they will be able to say the Aloha State is open for business again.

Takamori said that until the full economic impacts of the pandemic are realized, it is hard to judge the end effect on Hawaii tourism.

"Hawaii will always be a desirable destination -- it's still a bucket-list place for many people," she said. "But there is so much uncertainty right now. This is like nothing else before. People still don't really know how they are going to come out on the other side of this thing."

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