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Hawaii hotel group to require vaccination for employees and guests

‘Alohilani Resort Waikiki Beach and Highgate Hawaii’s collection of seven hotels are announcing today that they will begin requiring proof of full vaccination for all employees, guests and patrons.

The hotel company is the first in Hawaii to announce a vaccination mandate of this breadth. The new requirements will start Oct. 15.

Kelly Sanders, senior vice president of operations for Highgate Hawaii, and Cheryl Williams, regional vice president at Highgate Hawaii, announced the mandate this morning today at a news conference with John De Fries, president and CEO of the Hawaii Tourism Authority and Mufi Hannemann, Hawaii Lodging & Tourism Association president and CEO.

“We’re trying to do the right thing, and sometimes the right thing is really hard,” Sanders told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser on Tuesday.

“The thing that sticks out in my mind more than anything is that we’ve got to keep our employees safe — they are our family and they our priority — and if we can do that then we’ve done our job,” he said. “And the only way to do that is to make sure that everyone has the vaccination and that guests, patrons and the like are also held to the same level of responsibility.”

Sanders said Mayor Rick Blangiardi’s Safe Access Oahu program, which starts Monday, prompted Highgate’s latest policy decision. That county program will require proof of vaccine or a recent negative COVID-19 test to enter or work at many Oahu establishments; however, it’s not as strict as Highgate’s entry changes.

“First of all, I felt like it was going to be super difficult to signal out employees in our hotels based on the Mayor’s mandate,” he said. “After all of this time, it’s important for us to draw a line and figure out how we are going to move forward.”

Sanders said Highgate has often taken an industry lead on pandemic safety measures.

“We were the first to offer one of our hotels for COVID guests and doctors and nurses or those who might have been exposed and couldn’t safely quarantine,” he said. “We were the first to bring a COVID medial company (V2 Medical) into our hotel to offer COVID tests. And, I think we have to be the first to say kind of ‘enough is enough.’

Sanders said the vaccine is important to prevent people from getting COVID or keep them from being seriously challenged by COVID.

“I’ve got over 1,000 employees in my hotels and my responsibility is to them first,” he said.

Sanders said Highgate’s vaccination mandate applies to all employees, except the very few that are granted medical or religious exemptions.

Williams said Highgate will be holding a meeting with all of its travel partners today. The company also plans to begin contacting all of the guests in its reservation system.

“We have had a positive response. Most group and event planners require their attendees to be fully (vaccinated),” she said.

Sanders estimates 81% of Hawaii’s arriving visitors are vaccinated, and he hopes that they would consider Highgate’s hotels, which are taking steps to provide them with a safer environment.

Sanders said Highgate will exempt children under 12 from the company’s Hawaii vaccination mandate, but said the company is taking steps to ensure that older unvaccinated guests understand the new policies that apply to them.

“If a guest does arrive, we are going to try to find them a place to stay,” he said.

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