Lockdowns, quarantines and fear of exposure to COVID-19 have kept most visitors away from Hawaii this year.
The state is finally ready to welcome them back on Oct. 15 through a pre-arrivals testing program. It’s now time for Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau and its employer, the Hawaii Tourism Authority, to show visitors beautiful images of the Hawaii that they’ve been pining for while making sure to remind them to wash their hands, socially distance and wear masks.
“It’s more than where you go. It’s how you stay,” Jay Talwar, HVCB’s chief marketing officer, said of the campaign, which looks a lot like the Kuleana campaign that HVCB and HTA rolled out about this time last year to “share the dos and don’ts with visitors for their time in the Hawaiian islands.”
Talwar said of this year’s campaign, “We’re sharing the values of our community so visitors will understand why we act the way that we do and follow along.”
The 2019 goal was to avoid scolding visitors, while reminding them about appropriate behavior. In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic, has created urgency to get the public safety messaging right while making sure not to discourage visitors from coming to Hawaii. Also, top of mind, is reassuring residents that tourism is good for Hawaii. That’s a tall order when some residents fear a tourism-related surge in COVID-19 cases and many have grown to love an uncrowded Hawaii.
HVCB and HTA also are partnering to launch Malama Hawaii with a host of private partners, who will give visitors an opportunity to stay a free night if they engage in a volunteer project to help regenerate the natural beauty and culture of Hawaii.
“The Malama Hawaii promotion has come from HTA as a statewide message as we welcome visitors back,” Talwar said. “There will be a statewide representation of private partners, who will create their own particular experiences, and volunteer opportunities.”
Examples include volunteering at the Malama Loko Ea Foundation, Maui Nui Botanical Gardens, the Pacific Whale Foundation and Sustainable Coastlines Hawaii.
Early supporters of the program include: Alohilani Resort, Aqua Hotels and Resorts, Marriott, Highgate, Hilton Hotels and Resorts, Outrigger Hotels and Resorts, Sheraton, Westin Hotels and Resorts, Alaska Airlines and Hawaiian Airlines.
Alaska Airlines spokesman Daniel Chun said Alaska has always taken great pride in being responsible stewards of the places it flies, and the carrier hopes its guests take pride in this, too.
“We’re excited to support Malama Hawaii, as it provides a way for our guests to partner with local residents and organizations to help strengthen the communities they visit,” said Chun, who is also an HTA board member. “As we start to welcome visitors back to Hawaii, we want to support awareness of mindful travel to the Islands — both in the air and on the ground. Travel has fundamentally changed, and travelers have become aware of their personal impact on the places they visit more than ever.”
HVCB will promote the program through national and local media outreach, social media and email, paid media in core markets like San Francisco, Los Angeles, Portland and Seattle. HVCB’s industry partners also will promote Malama Hawaii through social media and email, influencer visits, direct sales calls, package development and participation in press releases and media outreach.
The Malama Hawaii campaign, which will kick off Oct. 15 for some partners, comes as the relationship between residents and tourists has grown more complicated.
Mufi Hannemann, president and CEO of the Hawaii Lodging &Tourism Association, said care will be paid to timing and the types of projects that visitors are offered.
“You don’t want to have (visitors) do projects that could lend themselves either to them getting sick or passing something on or could be dangerous,” he said.
Hannemann praised the idea as a way of being proactive against a very small but “vocal citizenry who think tourists are bad.”
HLTA and other business partners also plan to kick off their own campaign emphasizing to locals that Hawaii’s visitor industry is ready to reopen.
“We want to mitigate against those who don’t want any tourists to come — who don’t want us to open up because they are afraid,” he said.
Hannemann said communicating with locals is just as important a part of Hawaii’s tourism reopening strategy as communicating with visitors.
To be sure, resident sentiment toward tourism was at an all-time low pre-coronavirus. The main complaint that came after Hawaii’s visitor industry hit a record 10.4 million arrivals last year was that pockets of overtourism existed across the state.
Times have changed. Only 22,344 visitors flew into Hawaii in August, a nearly 98% monthly drop in arrivals that widened year-to-date losses to 69% for the first eight months of this year.
These preliminary statistics released by the Hawaii Tourism Authority’s Tourism Research Division on Monday were impacted by the mandatory 14-day self- quarantine for visitors that has been in place since March 26 for all travelers to Hawaii unless they have an exemption for something like work or healthcare.
During the lockdowns, some Hawaii residents have come to view quarantine enforcement as a personal responsibility. Hawaii Quarantine Kapu Breakers now has more than 6,000 active Facebook members who use their skills and networks to help catch quarantine breakers.
Come Oct. 15, Hawaii Gov. David Ige has said that travelers that participate in a pre-arrivals testing program to Hawaii will have an opportunity to bypass the quarantine. But visitors who don’t elect to get an approved COVID-19 test within the approved time frame will have to abide by the quarantine, which is currently in place through Oct. 31 and is expected to be extended again.
Travel demand had dampened severely this summer due to coronavirus fears and surges in Hawaii and in mainland cities. However, the quarantine and other lockdowns also have suppressed demand as most people don’t want to travel to Hawaii just to sit in a hotel room for 14 days.
Hawaii Lt. Gov. Josh Green said Monday during an interview with “Spotlight Hawaii,” a Facebook live series from the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, that it’s time to invite responsible tourists to the state.
“A lot of people are suffering very terribly — over 150,000 people are without jobs — and that has to end. We have to get people back to work. We just have to do it safely with a low rate of COVID,” Green said.