Hopes are dwindling for a strong finish to 2020

|
The Waimea Canyon on the island of Kauai.
The Waimea Canyon on the island of Kauai. Photo Credit: Tom Stieghorst
Tovin Lapan
Tovin Lapan

With a climbing infection rate on Oahu and the decision from Gov. David Ige to delay a pretravel coronavirus testing program until at least Oct. 1, the prospect of a strong holiday season and big finish to 2020 is growing increasingly remote for Hawaii.

Travel to the Aloha State has cratered, with a few hundred visitors arriving each day during the pandemic while more typical times would see more than 30,000 people land at the Islands' airports daily. Since March 26, all out-of-state arrivals have been subject to a two-week mandatory quarantine during which they are only permitted to leave their accommodations or residence for a medical emergency.

For months, state officials have been discussing a pretravel testing program that would allow travelers to bypass the quarantine if they test negative for coronavirus within 72 hours of arrival. Concerns over test availability, Hawaii's healthcare capacity and the state's own increasing infection rate have led to two delays of the program.

More than half of all Hawaii hotels temporarily closed during the pandemic, according to the Hawaii Lodging and Tourism Association, and while some have reopened during the summer or offered limited services, many are waiting for a wider tourism reopening.

The longer the state is forced to postpone welcoming back tourists, the more profound the impact on the economy and businesses, state officials have warned. According to a survey from the University of Hawaii Economic Research Organization released in August, 17% of the businesses in the state say they do not expect to survive the pandemic.

The constantly shifting regulations and dates for restarting tourism have dampened interest in the Aloha State for much of the remainder of the year, according to travel sellers.

"Hawaii travel demand continues to be very weak due to the global pandemic similar to many destinations," said Pleasant Holidays president and CEO Jack Richards. "...  There is considerable skepticism about the October 1, 2020, reopening, as dates continue to change.  This makes it extremely difficult to plan travel to Hawaii, so we are seeing a decline in momentum for bookings in 2020 and 2021."

Richards said Pleasant Holidays is canceling Hawaii bookings scheduled for September and October based on the latest news, and those clients, for the most part, are either declining to rebook or moving their travel dates to 2021. He also expects cancellations for November and December as they anticipate limited availability of hotel rooms, restaurants and destination activities through the end of the year.

"We do not expect a strong 2020 festive season for Hawaii, and travelers have been booking competitive destinations in Mexico, Caribbean, Tahiti and USA, which are open for tourism with few travel restrictions, if any," Richards said.  "Hawaii bookings for travel in 2021 are down double digits August year-to-date compared to the same time last year, so we expect a relatively weak first quarter 2021 for Hawaii."

In order to better plan for an eventual reopening and offer some of the services and amenities tourists desire, business leaders have asked for clear benchmarks that will trigger reopening.

"There should be metrics," said Keith Vieira, principal at Honolulu-based KV & Associates Hospitality Consulting. "They need to say how many cases we can handle, what the percentage of open [intensive care unit] beds need to be and come up with some concrete measures. We need to know what you're managing towards. Right now, we don't know."

Vieira says he's hopeful that promising testing developments, such as a rapid-result saliva test for coronavirus, could help Hawaii welcome tourists once again. He noted that, initially upon welcoming tourists back, visitor numbers are expected to gradually increase and should be manageable if the proper systems are in place.

"I think it is possible to reintroduce tourism safely. It's going to be a trickle at first, it won't be 35,000 people back on day one," he said.

At the end of July, the Hawaii Lodging and Tourism Association rolled out its own health, cleaning and safety protocols, and president Mufi Hannemann said the industry was ready to bring back guests with steps like enhanced sanitization and pool time reservations to maintain social distancing. The HLTA has also endorsed the idea of a "resort bubble," using GPS technology and a smartphone app to track visitors and restricting them to the resort where they are staying.

Vieira was doubtful that there would be significant interest in limited experiences such as the "resort bubble."

"That may be appealing to a few people, and perhaps places like Wailea or Kaanapali, resort areas, can possibly handle it," he said. "But for a lot of people that's not the experience they want. They want to get off property and go to their favorite shave ice place, their favorite hike. I give the government credit for looking at different possibilities, but that's not the Hawaii experience most people are looking for."

Additionally, it might not be economically feasible for some properties to reopen on a limited basis.

"The problem with these programs is if they don't work or only marginally work, the hotel is in a tough place," Viera said. "It takes a lot to gear up to reopen. You have to stock the kitchens, bring in the employees and train them on the new protocols. It's hugely expensive, and if you're looking at 20% occupancy for the next three to four months, then you're just bleeding money. So then you talk about limited services. Maybe you open one restaurant but not all of them."

As the restrictions in Hawaii have dragged on and hotels and tour providers have found it hard to prepare for a reopening that keeps moving back, it has made it more and more unlikely that the year will end on a positive note for tourism.

"We do not expect a strong 2020 festive season for Hawaii, and travelers have been booking competitive destinations in Mexico, Caribbean, Tahiti and USA, which are open for tourism with few travel restrictions, if any," Richards said.  "Hawaii bookings for travel in 2021 are down double digits August year-to-date compared to the same time last year, so we expect a relatively weak first quarter 2021 for Hawaii."

While hope for an end-of-year boost is fading, Richards is still bullish on Hawaii tourism overall.

"We are optimistic and positive about the long-term future for Hawaii tourism, especially with a Covid-19 vaccine," Richards said. "Tourism is very resilient and will recover in the future."

Comments

From Our Partners


From Our Partners

2022 VisitScotland Logo
Fall in Love with Scotland
Register Now
World of Luxury 12.06.21 Horizontal
World of Luxury
Read More
What's New 2022
What’s New 2022
Watch Now

JDS Travel News JDS Viewpoints JDS Africa/MI