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Hawaii hotels prepare to return to life in a COVID-19 world

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  • Video by Craig T. Kojima and Allison Schaefers / and

    Outrigger Hotels & Resorts has launched a new Clean Commitment program.

                                Malamalama Suyat sat behind a Plexiglas shield Thursday at the Outrigger Waikiki Beach Resort.


    Malamalama Suyat sat behind a Plexiglas shield Thursday at the Outrigger Waikiki Beach Resort.

                                Mila Robiniol sanitized the handrails in the lobby area at Outrigger Waikiki Beach Resort on Thursday.


    Mila Robiniol sanitized the handrails in the lobby area at Outrigger Waikiki Beach Resort on Thursday.

Masks and temperature checks and social distancing, oh my!

Visiting Hawaii hotels isn’t a footloose and fancy-free experience anymore. At virtually every property, masked guests must now follow social distancing stickers before they’re allowed to check in.

Hand sanitizers are everywhere, and there are plenty of reminders that everyone — guests and hosts alike — must stay vigilant about personal safety and hygiene practices.

The seriousness of it all might cause some travelers to question whether they are really in Hawaii. Then again, new evidence suggests pandemic-wary travelers want a side of safety to come with their sun, sand and surf.

Members of the Hawaii Lodging & Tourism Association say they are ready to deliver. Three member hotels, including the Outrigger Waikiki, Alohilani Resort Waikiki Beach and Hilton Hawaiian Village Waikiki Beach Resort, opened their doors Thursday so city and state lawmakers could see what Hawaii’s famous hospitality looks like in the COVID-19 era.

The Star-Advertiser was not invited to tour Hilton Hawaiian Village, but found the other two properties had undergone major changes.

>> PHOTOS: Tour the Outrigger Waikiki

For instance, you’ll need reservations at the Outrigger Waikiki Beach pool, where an attendant rings a bell to remind guests that swim times are limited to one hour.

Guests will find contactless payment at the front desk, where workers are behind Plexiglas shields. In-room magazines and other high-touch paper products like menus are gone. If guests want daily room cleaning, they’ll have to ask for it.

The changes are all part of the broader Outrigger Hotels & Resorts’ launch of Outrigger’s Clean Commitment, Outrigger’s new program, designed by health care leaders and developed with Ecolab, uses new health protocols, physical distancing and increased cleaning to support guest safety and employee well-being.

Outrigger is bringing in electrostatic sprayers, which spray mist containing positively charged particles that more evenly cling to surfaces and objects. They’ve also purchased UV wands, which use high frequency to damage nuclear materials in bacteria and viruses.

Mike Shaff, vice president of operations for Outrigger Hospitality Group, said, “The health and safety of our hosts and guests is our No. 1 priority.”

Shaff said all hosts must undergo training before returning to work. Before work starts, they are required to pass a temperature check and wash their hands or use hand sanitizer. Once on the clock, they are expected, at least once hourly, to spend 20 seconds washing their hands or using sanitizer.

Alohilani, which plans to reopen Aug. 1, also is introducing new safety and cleaning protocols as part of its “Be Well, Stay Well” program, which guests can download onto their phones through a QR code.

Alohilani workers will go through a temperature check and health screening before reporting to work. Once they pass, they are issued a bracelet to show that they are good to go.

Alohilani General Manager Matthew Grauso said the hotel also has instituted new room-cleaning practices that include the use of cleaning products that are proven to kill the virus.

“The average room now takes 45 minutes to clean; that’s up from an average of 23 minutes before,” Grauso said. “We’re taking our time to do it right so that when guests come they feel comfortable.”

Once a vacant room is cleaned, it’s closed with a safety seal. Grauso said guests staying five nights or less won’t get room cleaning during their stay.

Alohilani will no longer offer valet parking.

Elevator rides are limited to immediate families or four individuals. The pool will have a capacity limit of 35 guests, and there will be only six guests allowed in the hot tub. Only eight people can frequent the cabanas. Guests will be asked to use to make digital bookings.

Alohilani is bringing room-service dining back and upping its “knock-and-drop” food options, which also are wrapped and sealed shut with stickers.

Events are allowed, but mask and social distancing requirements, including capacity limits, must be met. Rentals in the property’s largest ballroom space will be limited to 350 or so guests as compared with 900 or so before.

Mufi Hannemann, HLTA president and CEO, said the organization has been working with Hawaii stakeholders for some time to develop safety and cleanliness guidelines.

“We’ve worked hard to adopt a standard for our industry that we vetted with the state Department of Health, Gov. David Ige and the four county mayors,” Hannemann said. “Now we see that individual brands are electing to do even more. We’ll hold more tours to show elected officials that we are making plans to reopen safely and to ensure guests that workers and guests are protected.”

Kekoa McClellan, American Hotel & Lodging Association Hawaii spokesman, said the cost of implementing new measures underscores the industry’s focus on safety. AHLA estimates that the average 450-room hotel will spend $450,000 a year on safety and cleanliness improvements, McClellan said.

“We’re building on the gold standard of sanitization, deep cleaning and workplace safety that our hotels followed before the pandemic,” he said. “Hawaii hotels have never been cleaner, and we will be ready for tourism to reopen when the mandatory 14-day quarantine is lifted.”

Honolulu Councilwoman Carol Fukunaga said touring the hotels left her with a sense that the industry might be better prepared for tourism to reopen than government.

“Reopening is a massive undertaking, but the private sector seems like it can pivot faster,” Fukunaga said.

State Sen. Glenn Wakai, chairman of the Senate’s Committee on Economic Development, Tourism, and Technology, said he was impressed by the hotel efforts, but he’s worried about how they will fare in the new COVID-19 world.

“The hotels that we’ve seen, they’ve spared no expenditure,” Wakai said. “They are doing the proper training. I just don’t know from an economic standpoint if you can keep that up when just a portion of your rooms are being filled.”

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