Through the first two months of the year, Hawaii tourism had experienced only slight coronavirus dampening. February’s daily domestic passenger count rose to 409,334, an 11,288-person gain over the same month in 2019, while the daily international passenger count fell by 21,129 to 185, 242.
However, losses are expected to widen following Friday’s confirmation of Hawaii’s first case of the new coronavirus in a resident who traveled on a cruise ship in February and tested positive after returning to Oahu. The individual, who was treated at Kaiser Permanente, had been on a Grand Princess voyage from San Francisco to Mexico from Feb. 11 to 21 and flew back to Hawaii from Mexico.
Gov. David Ige said Friday that officials, at this time, don’t believe there has been any community spread. However, state tourism already had begun to wobble just a few days into this month.
Part of the reason is heightened anxiety from the rapid spread of coronavirus outside of China as well as the increasing containment policies. The World Health Organization reported Saturday that the global number of reported cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, has surpassed 100,000. While more than 80,000 of these confirmed COVID-19 cases are in China, more than a quarter of the cases have now spread across 93 nations, including the U.S.
Hawaii hasn’t escaped what seems to be growing wariness across the globe. On Monday, organizers of the 13th Festival of the Pacific Arts & Culture, or FESTPAC, said they planned to postpone the event, which was slated to come to Hawaii for 11 days in June.
It’s not known how many attendees it would have brought this summer, but the event drew 90,000 to Guam when it was held in that U.S. territory in 2016.
Hawaii Tourism Authority President and CEO Chris Tatum also said Monday he had informed the Los Angeles Clippers that he would not invite the NBA team back for an August preseason appearance this year due to rising concerns about the coronavirus.
That was followed by singing superstar Mariah Carey’s announcement that she planned to move her March concert at Blaisdell Arena to November. Then, Honolulu Festival organizers canceled this weekend’s event, which had been expected to bring 3,000 Japanese visitors and an additional 200 from other nations in the Asia Pacific.
“There’s the possibility of more cancellations. People are taking a good hard look at anything within April, May and June,” said Mufi Hannemann, president and CEO of the Hawaii Lodging & Tourism Association.
Finally, airlines have started suspending or reducing service. United Airlines announced plans Wednesday to cut its domestic service by 10% and its international service by 20% starting in April. The airline has limited international service here. But based on past figures a 10% cut to Hawaii’s domestic service could average about 23,000 fewer seats a month.
Reductions to Korea also have been announced by Hawaiian Airlines, Korean Air and Asiana Airlines. Hawaiian Airlines also has temporarily reduced some of its service between Haneda and Kona and Honolulu. The changes go into effect March 28 and run through April 29, the start of Golden Week, which is usually a peak travel period for visitors from Japan.
A plethora of airline and other travel discounts and incentives designed to bolster Hawaii tourism are emerging. Airline sales, including $99 flights between Hawaii and the mainland, have hit the market, and it’s expected spring travel to Hawaii will be on sale in response to increased capacity that was already in the market prior to the coronavirus, as well as flight cancellations and downward booking trends.
Declining occupancy has caused cruise ships and hotels to start offering discounts and perks.
Hilton Hawaiian Village Waikiki Beach Resort said Friday that it will start selling rooms as much as 30% off Monday during a sale that runs through March 20. The sale is valid for stays from March 22 to Dec. 15.
“Almost every company is doing a review of what’s happening to booking pace and cancellations,” said Keith Vieira, principal of KV & Associates, Hospitality Consulting. “You’ll see bigger hotels put specials in the market. That’s good, it will drive business. On the other hand, if it continues for a long time it could hurt our future rates and our ability to drive higher-spending visitors.”
Vieria said in addition to sales, some hoteliers may try to offset losses from declining demand by cutting employee hours as well as services to customers.
“There’s no way to escape what’s going on, but unfortunately, it can become a self-fulfilling prophecy,” he said. “We’ll rebound. But the specials we are running now will affect us at least for the next three to six months.”
Some vacationers still appeared enthusiastic about vacationing via cruise ship in Hawaii, or were at least not concerned about the coronavirus threat in the state.
On Saturday afternoon, passengers were boarding NCL’s Pride of America cruise ship docked at the pier near Aloha Tower to begin a seven-day cruise around the state. The ship can accommodate nearly 2,200 passengers and has a crew of over 900.
Shona Kelway, who flew in from New Zealand Friday, was rushing to board. She was less worried about getting sick and more so about the cruise being canceled.
“We’re really excited about going on a cruise,” Kelway said. “We were just a little bit worried about maybe not getting to Hawaii at all. So we’re feeling relaxed.”
Few passengers and crew members on the pier were seen wearing face masks or other protective gear. One person who was checking in passengers wore a face mask.
Era Dordo, who lives in Hawaii, was sitting on a bench outside the check-in area on the pier, waiting for her husband while pushing a stroller back and forth to soothe her baby. Dordo said neither she nor her husband were worried about the possibility of getting the coronavirus.
“I have faith, I think. Something can happen when … you walk on the street,” she said. “(It can) happen anytime.”
A Pride of America employee who did not want to give his name because he wasn’t authorized to speak on the matter, said the cruise ship has established protocols for minimizing any risk of spreading the virus if someone is found to have it.
“We are fine. We have rules for sanitizing and cleaning everything. We don’t have a problem,” he said.
He also said that not many passengers seemed to be worried about it either.
“I feel good. Everybody feels good,” he said. “Only a couple guests, not everybody, they’re asking if we are fine. … The answer is yes, we are fine.”