comscore Hawaii’s visitor industry is ready to help with coronavirus crisis | Honolulu Star-Advertiser
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Hawaii’s visitor industry is ready to help with coronavirus crisis

  • BRUCE ASATO / BASATO@STARADVERTISER.COM
                                The Hawaii Tourism Authority has set up a command center on the third floor of the Hawai‘i Convention Center to provide support and coordinate execution of state and county directives. The convention center and hotels are talking to Hawaii Emergency Management Agency officials about offering space for emergency use.

    BRUCE ASATO / BASATO@STARADVERTISER.COM

    The Hawaii Tourism Authority has set up a command center on the third floor of the Hawai‘i Convention Center to provide support and coordinate execution of state and county directives. The convention center and hotels are talking to Hawaii Emergency Management Agency officials about offering space for emergency use.

The Hawai‘i Convention Center, the state’s temple to group tourism, now has about 1.1 million square feet of mostly unused space.

Hotels across the state are temporarily shuttering. The count was nearly 80 Wednesday and rising. Growing COVID-19 containment measures in Hawaii and elsewhere and the corresponding drop in tourism demand have temporarily turned the state’s tourism sites into ghost towns.

With a rigorous statewide visitor quarantine taking effect today on top of an already active stay-in-place order for residents, most of the state’s hotels are closing this week or next, leaving wide swaths of unoccupied space. That’s the opposite of what’s expected at the state’s hospitals and social service agencies, which fear that COVID-19 cases will overwhelm their facilities.

That’s why Hawaii Tourism Authority has extended help to the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency.

“The industry has offered support to the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency from employee resources to hotel repurposing. HI-EMA is also evaluating the Hawai‘i Convention Center for medical overflow options if needed,” HTA president and CEO Chris Tatum said in a letter sent Wednesday to industry leaders.

Tatum told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser that only about 20 or so HTA directors, who are part of a command center, are occupying space at the convention center, along with other essential staff such as maintenance and security.

“It’s dark at the convention center. Unless something changed dramatically, no one else is booking this year and most businesses book three to five years out. Most local stuff has been canceled through June,” he said. “We took HI-EMA on a tour of our facilities on Monday. We’re letting HI-EMA take the lead. We told them, ‘We are here. We will work to do whatever you need.’”

Shuttered hotels are taking up the mantle, too. A little more than a month ago, occupancy rates at most of these properties were running so high — nearly 85% statewide in February — it would have been difficult to get a room. By late February, demand had dropped significantly enough that discounted rooms were plentiful. At mid-March, most properties were running with lower than 20% occupancy — a benchmark for many to run closure scenarios.

If all Hawaii hotels closed, there would be approximately 42,863 empty hotel rooms spread across 148 properties. While some properties will stay open to handle essential travel needs, much of the state’s tourism infrastructure has lots of unoccupied space.

“We need to spend the next week and a half focusing on taking care of our employees and ceasing operations. But in terms of giving back we want to do that,” said Mufi Hannemann, president and CEO of the Hawaii Lodging & Tourism Association.

The plan to help is in its infancy, so players are still figuring out what’s on the table. So far Hannemann said discussions have ranged from using visitor industry space for emergency command centers, overflow medical space and places to put displaced people such as those under quarantine or who are homeless.

“We’re not necessarily closed to any opportunity to help our community,” Hannemann said. “There’s no shortage of hotels that want to help with some social purposes and community give-back.”

Still, Hannemann said a process needs to be put in place before any repurposing plans could move ahead.

“They can’t just walk through the door and say, ‘I’m here. May I check in?,’” Hannemann said. “There have to be steps involved. If it will involve our employees, we have to make sure their health and safety are protected.”

It’s already happening in places like New York, where the COVID-19 count is high. The city reportedly has contracts in place to convert hotel space into makeshift hospitals for non-COVID-19 patients and to quarantine people, including the homeless. The Javits Convention Center also has begun transforming into a hospital.

Jim Shon, a Hawaii state representative from 1984 to 1996, said he’d like to see similar action in Hawaii take place promptly with a focus on making use of the Hawai‘i Convention Center, the University of Hawaii’s Stan Sheriff Center, and other large unoccupied places.

“I hope it’s not a monthlong activity of the administration going back and forth,” Shon said. “Let’s start setting up now for what may come. HTA should say bring in the beds now. If we don’t need them great, but why wait until there’s a problem.”

“Clearly one of the bigger issues in Hawaii is that we have so few spare hospital beds,” said Shon, who was chairman of the state House health committee when HIV was a public health concern. “One of the first things to look at is where do we put other beds for non-acute care patients who still need care but can’t go home.”

“Obviously, you can’t just say let’s set up a cot in a gym and do an operation, but there may be a lot of other opportunities to serve people that had minor surgeries,” he said.

HOTEL CLOSURES MOUNT

The list of Hawaii hotels that have closed or will close this week rose to nearly 80 on Wednesday, almost doubling Tuesday’s count.

Kauai

Club Wyndham Bali Hai Villas

Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort & Spa

Hanalei Colony Resort

Kauai Marriott (hotel)

Kauai Shores

Pono Kai Condos

Princeville Resort

Sheraton Kauai Poipu (hotel)

Oahu

Aulani, A Disney Resort

Coconut Waikiki Hotel

Four Seasons Resort Oahu

Halekulani Hotel

Halepuna

Hilton Waikiki Beach

The Kahala Hotel & Resort

Ko Olina Resort

Ohana East by Outrigger

Prince Waikiki

Paradise Bay Resort

Princess Kaiulani

Queen Kapiolani

The Ritz-Carlton Waikiki (rental program)

Royal Hawaiian

Turtle Bay Resort

Waikiki Beach Marriott

Waikiki Beachcomber by Outrigger

Waikiki Sand Villa

Westin Moana Surfrider

Maui

 Andaz Maui

Fairmont Kea Lani

Four Seasons Maui

Grand Wailea

Hyatt Regency Maui Resort & Spa

Kaanapali Beach Hotel

Mama’a Fish House Restaurant & Inn

Maui Seaside Hotel

The Mauian

Montage Kapalua Bay

Plantation Inn

The Ritz-Carlton Kapalua

Royal Lahaina Resort

Sheraton Maui

Travaasa Hana

Wailea Beach Resort – Marriott

Westin Maui

Lanai

Four Seasons Lanai at Koele

Four Seasons Resort Lanai

Hotel Lanai

Molokai

Hotel Molokai

Island of Hawaii

Auberge Mauna Lani

Bay House Bed & Breakfast

Courtyard King Kamehameha’s Kona Beach Hotel

Hawaii Island Retreat

Hilo Seaside Hotel

The Inn at Kulaniapa Falls

Kohala Village Inn

Kona Seaside Hotel

Lava Lava Beach Club

Mauna Kea Beach Hotel

Mauna Lani Point

Old Hawaiian B&B

The Palms Cliff House Inn

Puakea Ranch

Royal Kona Resort

Waikoloa Beach Marriott (hotel and timeshare)

Waimea Gardens Cottage

Waipio Wayside Bed and Breakfast

Westin Hapuna

Waikoloa Marriott (hotel)

Source: HTA and Star-Advertiser research

Correction: In an earlier version of this fact box, Hawaii Tourism Authority incorrectly included the following properties on a list of closed hotels: Aston Islander on the Beach, Aston Poipu Kai, EWA Hotel, Aston Kaanapali Shores, Aston Mahana at Kaanapali, Aston at the Maui Banyan, Aston Maui Hill, Aston Paki Hill, Aston at Papakea Resort, Aston at the Whaler on Kaanapali Beach, Aston Kona by the Sea, Aston Shores at Waikoloa, Aston Waikoloa Colony Villas, and Airport Honolulu Hotel.

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