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Kauai travel rules bring job, revenue losses

  • STAR-ADVERTISER
                                Kauai mayor Derek Kawakami says the county sought to have a mandatory post-travel test with a shorter quarantine, but was denied.

    STAR-ADVERTISER

    Kauai mayor Derek Kawakami says the county sought to have a mandatory post-travel test with a shorter quarantine, but was denied.

Hotels and visitor industry businesses are curtailing or postponing operations, and many visitors are going elsewhere, as the harsh economic realities of Kauai’s decision to opt out of Safe Travels Hawaii begin to take root.

The Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort & Spa, the Garden Isle’s largest hotel, which employs about 900 people at full capacity, is closing again Monday. The Sheraton Kauai also has made the decision to close again and doesn’t plan to reopen until next year.

Airlines have begun cutting Kauai schedules.

Toni Marie Davis, executive director of the Activities & Attractions Association of Hawaii, said activities and attractions are scaling back or choosing to remain closed.

Kauai County hopes some travelers might be interested in the start of resort bubbles — a modified quarantine program that limits guests to specific resorts but allows them free range on property. But Jack Richards, president and CEO of Pleasant Holidays, reports that cancellations are growing, and, given the short notice, many travelers are hesitant to re-book anywhere in Hawaii. Future bookings also are way down, he said.

Kawakami’s request to place a temporary moratorium on Kauai’s participation in the state’s pre-travel testing program started at 12:01 a.m. today. All trans-Pacific and intercounty travelers arriving on Kauai are now subject to the 14-day quarantine regardless of testing.

Hawaii Lodging and Tourism Association President and CEO Mufi Hannemann said Kauai’s visitor industry is working with Kauai Mayor Derek Kawakami on an 11th-hour compromise.

“We don’t like quarantines at all, but faced with a 14-day quarantine for all arriving passengers, we would support an option where travelers quarantine for three days in a resort bubble and then are allowed out if they pass a post-arrivals test,” Hannemann said. “We need to stop the bleeding. There are going to be huge job losses and furloughs again.”

Kawakami said Monday during his COVID-19 briefing that Kauai County’s preference “has and continues to be implementing a mandatory post-travel test with a shorter quarantine period.”

“However, that request was denied, and without that option we had little choice but to take a temporary pause from the single pre-test travel program until the national incidence of disease is stabilized,” Kawa­kami said. “The two-week trend of cases throughout the country has increased by over 43%.”

Prior to the Oct. 15 launch of Hawaii’s pre-arrival testing program, Kawakami said Kauai had a total of 61 cases. In the six-week period since Safe Travels began, Kawakami said, Kauai has had an additional 70 cases, 57 of them travel-related.

Dr. Mark Mugiishi, Hawaii Medical Service Association president and CEO, and Raymond Vara, Hawaii Pacific Health president and CEO, told Kawakami and other members of the House Select Committee on COVID-19 Economic and Financial Preparedness on Monday that Safe Travels data showed that Kauai was coping.

Lt. Gov. Josh Green told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser on Monday that Wilcox Memorial Hospital has only nine ICU beds but is able to flex up to 20 if needed. Wilcox also has the support of other Hawaii Pacific Health hospitals, including Kapiolani, Pali Momi and Straub, he added.

Still, Kawakami said county officials could not afford to allow the community to become sick, especially now when several vaccines are close to being approved and distributed.

“While the economic impact of the quarantine is severe, the economic impact of sickness and a subsequent shutdown would be much worse,” he said. “At any point we can either offer stronger assurances with the Safe Travels program, or should the national outlook improve, we will gladly revoke this moratorium.”

In the meantime, Kauai’s temporary moratorium on the Safe Travels program has triggered cancellations on that island and across the state, said Sean Dee, Outrigger Hospitality Group executive vice president and chief marketing officer.

Outrigger data shows Kauai cancellations increased 80% since the 14-day quarantine announcement last week, mostly devastating December holiday-week bookings. Half of the holiday bookings for Kauai were canceled in the last week after the new order was put into place, he said.

“New bookings for Kauai dropped 25% since the 14-day quarantine announcement and are only for the third quarter of 2021 forward, leaving the next four months with near-zero demand,” Dee said. “Maui cancellations have increased 30% for short-term bookings.”

Dee said the impact of Kauai’s 14-day quarantine, coupled with the Nov. 24 decision not to allow travelers with pending COVID-19 test results to get out of quarantine, has increased cancellations by 50% for all of Hawaii.

“These cancellations are impacting stay dates and destroying occupancy for the next 180 days, especially over the holidays and early January,” he said. “These collective decisions have unfortunately impacted our revenues negatively by tens of millions of dollars and more importantly, the livelihood of our local hosts.”

Kauai’s decision to opt out also is resulting in flight reductions — never a good scenario for a mostly fly-to destination.

Alaska Airlines spokesman Daniel Chun said most Kauai-bound guests have “either canceled their trip or re-booked for another island.”

“We are currently reviewing our flight schedule for Kauai and will likely need to suspend most flights to Lihue this month,” he said.

Hawaiian spokesman Alex Da Silva said the airline is reducing flights between Honolulu and Lihue to an average of five daily round-trip flights from 12 daily flights, and will cancel nonstop flights between Lihue and both Kahului and Kona today through Jan. 5. The carrier also will cancel nonstop flights between Lihue and Los Angeles and Oakland, Calif., from mid-December through Jan. 5.

“While we are able to help our guests receive their tests before departure thanks to our growing network of dedicated labs, the state’s new restriction has added stress and uncertainty for travelers,” Da Silva said. ”We are concerned that the rapid changes and inconsistent policies island by island are creating confusion and countering the intent of the program, which is to preserve the well-being of our community.”

Kauai’s modified quarantine program remains in place for critical infrastructure workers, essential medical travel or other special circumstances. Visit kauai.gov/COVID-19 to apply for a modified quarantine.

Kauai travelers also have the opportunity to complete their quarantine in a resort bubble. Kawakami said five Kauai resorts already have received approval to operate resort bubbles, and several more are in the pipeline.

The concept has gotten mixed reviews. Some critics have suggested the optics are bad for the Hawaii brand, and others have worried that offering visitors a limited experience will reduce satisfaction levels.

Gary Moore, managing director of Hokuala — a Timbers Resort on Kauai, said the 450-acre resort has had “very positive” results since its Oct. 1 resort bubble launched.

“Until now the resort bubble has been mostly for guests that messed up. But we’ve had plenty of owners and guests that did the resort bubble and had a great time,” Moore said. “We’ve calling all of our guests and letting them know that it’s an option. We’re telling them, ‘If you wanted to go out and hike Waimea Canyon, you might want to reschedule, but if you want to come for a respite, come because you’ll have a great time.’”

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