Hawaii’s tourists and visitor industry are feeling the impact of trip cancellations

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September 19 – Hawaii’s visitor industry has lost tens of millions of dollars to cancellations since Governor David Ige called for a travel break, and travelers are losing a lot of money as well.

Kamaka Brown, a native of Hawaii living in California, had planned a 12-day stay in Hawaii this month but canceled after Ige on August 23 asked residents and visitors to Hawaii to delay all unauthorized travel. essential until October. Brown, 74, said he wanted to respect local concerns and did not want to put his own health at risk during the state’s high-profile COVID-19 outbreak.

“I was worried about my health as a senior. I was worried about what was going on in Hawaii despite being vaccinated and taking all precautions,” he said. “When I saw the critical mass happening, the situation with the hospitals, the intensive care units, the daily infections, the words of the governor, I said, ‘You know what, this is serious and I don’t want to contribute to everything that’s going on there. ‘”

Brown said he contacted Hawaiian Airlines and got a refund when he canceled his trip from September 9 to 21. However, he still has just under $ 3,000 in accommodation costs left for a Waikiki Banyan unit that he booked through VRBO. He said the owner told him he hadn’t canceled early enough and that Ige’s statement was just a request, not a warrant.

He took to VRBO, but was told he didn’t have a trip cancellation policy and the company doesn’t require hosts to make refunds outside of their policies.

Texan Cheryl Brown said she and her husband Robert canceled their two-week vacation to Oahu and Kauai due to the COVID-19 outbreak and instead vacationed in the Ouachita Mountains of Arkansas.

The couple, who are not related to Kamaka Brown, had saved three years to take a dream trip to Hawaii and see their son, who is in the military and stationed in Oahu. After Ige’s high-profile request to put the trip on hold, Brown said she spent more than 10 hours trying to cancel various bookings for their trip. She got credit for their plane and timeshare reservations, but is still waiting to get about $ 1,000 back for a canceled boat trip and luau.

“I was particularly frustrated and disappointed with Governor Ige’s lack of leadership in this new wave of the delta variant of COVID. He did nothing but ask visitors to cancel their Hawaii vacations in this regard. moment, ”Brown said. “Governor Ige has no idea. It just isn’t that simple, and it cost people thousands of money to ‘stay away’.”

Similar stories abound as Hawaii’s visitor industry grapples with growing pandemic-related cancellations and no clear policy on how to handle losses. Not all businesses, especially smaller and less capitalized companies, cannot afford to be as flexible as others, especially when there is no mandate.

Mufi Hannemann, president and CEO of the Hawaii Lodging & Tourism Association, said the message was difficult for local businesses.

“It’s hard to manage because it wasn’t a decree,” Hannemann said. “People who want to come can always come.”

ALTHOUGH this is also true for travelers in the business and group market, strict assembly rules across the islands have had a significant negative impact, as have delta surges across the United States.

Hawaii Data Collaborative reported that on August 5, the seven-day daily average of visitors was 28,003. As of Wednesday, Safe Travels Hawaii reported that only 17,012 of passengers arriving through the state entry program were visitors. .

A new report from the American Hotel & Lodging Association and Kalibri Labs predicts Hawaii’s hospitality industry to end 2021 down nearly $ 1.2 billion in business travel revenue from 2019. That makes the Hawaiian Islands one of 10 markets AHLA plans to complete in 2021 with the biggest drop in business travel revenue.

Hawai’i Convention Center chief executive Teri Orton told a Hawaii Tourism Authority meeting in September that the pandemic had roughly halved events and revenues.

Hannemann said that since Ige’s statement, Hawaii’s hospitality industry has lowered its year-end forecast to reflect an escalation in cancellations and a continued slowdown in bookings.

In the summer, Hanne Mann said, occupancy rates at most hotels in Hawaii ranged from 70 percent to over 80 percent. Since Labor Day, the occupancy rate has approached 50%, which is below profitability for most properties, and continues to decline.

“It will definitely affect jobs,” he said. “Some workers have had their hours reduced, others who no longer have (unemployment benefits) and expected to return to work may not return as quickly as they would like. There have been layoffs. . “

Hannemann said a major hotel partner told him he had already lowered his year-end forecast by $ 4 million and expects that number to rise as long as the governor’s message stays in place. A travel salesman told him he had lost over $ 13 million since Ige requested a travel break.

Unlike crowded sidewalks and long queues outside restaurants during the summer, the streets of Waikiki were mostly empty on Friday afternoons and there was plenty of room at most establishments, although traffic pedestrian walk resumed in the evening.

Kelly Sanders, senior vice president of operations at Highgate Hawaii, said in just the first two weeks after Ige’s announcement, hotels in Waikiki had already lost $ 1.7 million in September and $ 1.6 million. dollars for October, and that took into account new bookings.

“We’re at a negative pace here. We’re not getting enough new bookings to make up for the cancellations,” Sanders said. “Normally, we make about $ 1 million a day or more in income in Waikiki.”

By the time the downturn is over, Sanders estimates that hotels in Waikiki could easily have lost $ 15-20 million in hotel revenue, as well as food, drink and retail revenue.

Maui Mayor Mike Victorino told a recent HLTA press conference that hotels on his island had lost $ 25 million in revenue and 52,000 room nights.

Jack Richards, President and CEO of Pleasant Holidays, said on September 8 that booking cancellations were up more than 300% from 2019 and that cancellations on September 7 alone were up 463% from 2019. on the same day in 2019.

Richards said some visitors are wary of the booking because they are unsure if they will be able to get a refund if they have to cancel. They are also concerned about Safe Access O’ahu and all the other changing rules, he said.

“They are worried that they will not be able to get reservations for dinner or to go to their favorite activity”,

he said. “There is no doubt that Safe Access O’ahu has had a deterrent effect. People have been locked up for 18 months. If they go on vacation, they want experiences.”

Many destinations have seen demand from U.S. travelers slow as the delta variant has increased across the country, although not to about the same degree as Hawaii.

“Hawaii’s demand is negative,” Richards said. “We still have destinations like Mexico that are positive. There are no restrictions there, and there is no test requirement to enter the country. About 85% of the hotels with which we do business in Mexico provide the testing to get back to the US onsite and it’s generally free or at minimal cost. “

He said the worst thing about Hawaii’s situation is that it is confusing and leaves visitors feeling uneasy and wondering what to do next.

Jessica Lani Rich, president and CEO of the Visitor Aloha Society of Hawaii, a nonprofit that helps visitors in crisis, said she had received calls from visitors concerned about what would happen if they decided to cancel or if they went to Hawaii and then tested positive for COVID-19[FEMININE[FEMININE

“I think if we want to say, ‘Don’t come here until the end of October’, there has to be some kind of cancellation policy,” she said. “Visitors should not be financially punished for doing the right thing.”

Rich said there had been few travel-related COVID-19 cases among non-residents; However, Hawaii is not equipped to deal with more than community spread.

“A few weeks ago a number of visitors called and asked, ‘What if I get COVID-19 and don’t have enough money to afford a hotel for seven to 10 days? ” she said. “My answer is, ‘If you think you are going to catch COVID-19, don’t travel.'”

Rich said there have been a few instances where she has had to help visitors who tested positive for COVID-19 while in Hawaii. The easiest, she said, was when a mother and daughter contracted the virus and stayed in a large hotel suite where they could self-isolate.

She said it is more difficult when visitors develop the coronavirus while staying in vacation rentals because visitors are not allowed to quarantine there.

“We had a doctor last week who tested positive for COVID. He was here with friends at an Airbnb. They returned home and he entered quarantine ”,

Rich said.

In another Labor Day case, a visitor was staying at an Airbnb and had to move to a hotel when he tested positive.

“He was very concerned about where he was going to stay,” Rich said. “The state does not pay for accommodation if visitors contract COVID or need to self-quarantine.”

Rich said VASH also helped the families of two visitors who died from COVID-19 during their visit.

The CDC continues to say domestic travel is safe for vaccinated travelers, but unvaccinated travelers should avoid non-essential travel.

Hannemann said he and other industry executives had asked Ige to consider revising his post to make it clear that the state would welcome vaccinated travelers.

“There are rumors circulating that Hawaii will continue to ask people not to come here. For this reason, we really need Governor Ige to fix the problem by mid-October and not wait until the end of October. that could jeopardize the holiday season, ”he said. “People are already canceling for November because of all the uncertainty.”

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