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Hawaii vacation rentals continued to struggle in May amid lockdowns

Vacation rental accommodations, even the legal ones, were economically decimated again in May 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 most of them to close during the month.

Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell led the county bans when he announced April 7 that short-term rentals could not operate during the COVID-19 emergency because he had designated them as non-essential businesses. Even before the emergency, the Caldwell administration had been cracking down on illegal vacation rentals, which supply the majority of the county’s vacation rental inventory.

Kauai, the island that was most sensitive to pre-pandemic fears of overtourism, adopted a short-term rental ban that closely matched Oahu’s policy.

Maui County and Hawaii County also banned short-term rentals, but allowed those housing essential workers to remain in operation.

The emergency bans on short-term rentals continued through May.

Unit demand statewide changed from 658,237 occupied room nights in May 2019 to just 30,620 last month, which equated to a 95% drop, according to the Hawaii Tourism Authority.

Vacation rental unit supply fell to 326,176 room nights, a 64.8% change from May 2019. The average daily rate for a unit also fell nearly 46% to just over $185.

Vacation rental units are not available year-round or each day of the month and often accommodate more guests than hotels.

Hawaii’s hotels, which are deemed as essential businesses, were more than 14% occupied in May 2020 and obtained an average daily rate of $127.

Despite government-required closures, some 9% of short-term units statewide were occupied in May. Nonetheless, that still was a 61.7 percentage-point occupancy drop.

Some of May’s vacation rental occupancy was legal. Some occupied units were filled with carryover from guests who were already staying in units before the rules were changed. Also, some vacation rentals in resort districts might have fallen into operational grey areas.

But there were scofflaws as well. In one high-profile case, 21 members of the Carbon Nation cult were charged with violating emergency orders and sent back to Los Angeles after staying in a vacation rental.

The cult members, who arrived in Hawaii on June 8, were busted two and three days later by the Hawaii Police Department.

Police arrested five men and three women at a Pikake Street residence. A day later they arrested 13 more, including six females and seven males, at a home on Railroad Avenue in the Hawaiian Paradise Park subdivision of Puna.

The owner of the Pikake Street residence was arrested and charged for violating Hawaii island Mayor Harry Kim’s order prohibiting the operation of short-term vacation rentals.

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