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Coronavirus tourism lockdowns hit Hawaii’s vacation rental industry hard in April

Vacation rental accommodations, even the legal ones, were economically decimated in April amid COVID-19 fears and tourism lockdowns.

On March 26, the state began a mandatory 14-day self-quarantine for incoming passengers on trans-Pacific flights, the quarantine was extended to interisland flights on April 1.

Bans across the counties also rendered vacation rentals as non-essential businesses, which effectively required all of them to close during the month. Despite the government-required closures, some 5% of the units statewide were still occupied in April.

Some of April’s vacation rental occupancy might have been a carryover from guests who were already staying in units when the rules were changed. But there were likely scofflaws as well.

Hotels across the state have cooperated with law enforcement and tourism officials to enforce the quarantine. So have some vacation rental owners, who have told guests that they had to cancel their reservations or removed inventory from advertisements.

However, some lawmakers fear that some vacation rental guests are thwarting the industry shutdown and are harder to track because they are staying at places where there might not be a front desk or host on-site.

Since most visitor arrivals are concentrated on Oahu, state lawmakers have focused vacation rental enforcement efforts there. The Senate Special Committee on COVID-19 has met with the state Attorney General’s Office, the Honolulu Police Department and the city Department of Planning and Permitting.

Despite the concern, there’s no doubt that the statewide vacation rental industry took a hard hit.

Unit demand statewide changed from 616,154 occupied room nights in April 2019 to just 16,009 last month, which equated to a 67.9% percentage-point drop in occupancy.

Vacation rental unit supply fell to 319,504 room nights, a 62.2% change from April 2019. The average daily rate for a unit also fell 5.8% to just over $190.

In comparison, Hawaii’s hotels, which are deemed as essential businesses, were 8.9% occupied in April 2020.

Hawaii’s hotel and vacation rental industries also suffered greatly in April due to the impacts of airlines cutting flights into Hawaii, reluctance on the part of some visitors to travel and government public safety crackdowns.

Gov. David Ige has said that he plans to lift the interisland quarantine soon, but has stopped short of providing a date. There’s still no hint of when the trans-Pacific quarantine might be lifted, an action that has to take place before Hawaii tourism could begin to resume.

Lawmakers haven’t indicated when vacation rentals might be allowed to resume operations. On May 14, Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell extended his stay-at-home emergency order through June 30. The order considers short-term rentals of under 30 days nonessential businesses, which means they can’t legally operate until it gets lifted. Ige also said that he plans to extend a 14-day mandatory self-quarantine for all travel into the state from May 31 until the end of June.

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