Mufi Hannemann, President and CEO of the Hawaii Tourism and Lodging Association, and Jeff Wagoner, CEO of Outrigger Hospitality Group, joined Spotlight Hawaii this morning to talk about the state of tourism in Hawaii. Nearly a year since the pandemic took hold in the islands, hotel occupancy hovers around 20-percent, and many tourism-related businesses are struggling. Still, Wagoner is optimistic about the months ahead, with people being vaccinated and eager to travel after a year of largely staying home.
“Last week was the first week in this entire pandemic period where more than 50% of the people said they are going to travel for leisure in 2021, which is huge. The number one destination in just about every survey you see of places they want to go is Hawaii,” Wagoner said.
“People are going to want to come to Hawaii, but we want to do it safely. One of the reasons they want to come here is because of what we’ve already done. We’ve been safe, we’re touted as a safe place to visit.”
Both men praised the Safe Travels program, which reopened transpacific tourism in October, and so far has not led to a significant increase of coronavirus cases in the islands. Wagoner said in all of Outrigger’s Hawaii properties, only one guests has tested positive for COVID-19 after arrival, that person was a flight crew member who was able to safely quarantine.
Hannemann said that because visitors have to take a test before arrival, they tend to be more responsible and inclined to follow COVID-19 safety protocols.
“It’s a different kind of traveler that we’re getting here. We also have shifted to really trying to emphasize that we want travelers coming here that respect our culture, respect our environment, and know that we want them to participate in making this a better place,” he said.
Hannemann and Wagoner said the concept of a vaccine passport, allowing visitors to bypass the testing or quarantine protocols with proof of a vaccine, would safely boost arrivals, especially as more Hawaii hotel workers are also vaccinated.
“It appears that our hospitality employees are going to end up in the 1C tier [for vaccines] so at some point here in the very near future, they will start having the opportunity to have the vaccination,” Wagoner said. “So if during May for example we’re able to get all of our employees vaccinated and we can at the same time allow our customers to come in, who have vaccinations as well, that’s really the opportunity that we need as an industry I think that we need to have travel really rebound for us in a more robust way.”
“We want to make sure that our workers are considered part of this essential category [for vaccines] because of all the front facing responsibilities they have,” Hannemann said, later adding, “There’s nothing that’s going to put people back to work quicker than this industry…If this industry doesn’t come back, we’re going to be in a major world of hurt.”
Spotlight Hawaii, which shines a light on issues affecting Hawaii, airs live 10:30 a.m. every Monday, Wednesday and Friday on the Honolulu Star-Advertiser’s Facebook page. Join Ryan Kalei Tsuji and Yunji de Nies this month for a conversation with guests. Click here to watch previous conversations and to view the rest of this month’s schedule.