House Bill 86
As you know, House Bill 862 HD2, SD2, CD1 was passed by both chambers of the State Legislature and now goes to Governor Ige to sign, allow the law to be enacted without his signature, or veto. We are working to petition Gov. Ige to consider wielding his veto powers.
“Bill could raise costs of vacationing in Hawaii ,” Honolulu Star-Advertiser April 24, 2021
"Editorial: Take longer view of visitor industry," Honolulu Star-Advertiser, April 27, 2021
In related news, Maui Mayor Michael Victorino has already issued a press release indicating his support for the enactment of a 3% surcharge for Maui County. While we understand the counties' are in a difficult situation given the Legislature removing the traditional TAT allocation they have received for the past 31 years, we had hoped for more restraint in issuing any sort of support at this point. Approaching this issue with care makes the most sense as any proposed surcharge could be obviated through a veto by Gov. Ige.
"Counties eye hotel room tax hikes as state seeks to divert revenues to general fund," Hawaii News Now, April 28, 2021
"New County Hotel Tax Is Approved In Final Vote," Civil Beat, April 27, 2021
We do know that Mayor Victorino's stance on the establishment of a county surcharge is not shared by each of the county mayors. Mayor Rick Blangiardi noted in his comments to Civil Beat that, "Pushing a major TAT initiative in the 11th hour, and in this economic climate, is not the way to create a law this important and impactful to all of our counties," while Hawai'i County Mayor Mitch Roth said that HB 862 comes at a bad time for residents in a variety of industries, not just hospitality.
"Roth says bill that nixes TAT allocations places intolerable strain on isle’s hospitality industry," Hawaii Tribune-Herald, April 29, 2021
On Thursday, May 6 at 8 a.m. HST, Lt. Governor Josh Green will join Nevada Attorney General Aaron Ford and AHLA President & CEO Chip Rogers for a discussion panel that will cover tourism promotion and how to balance this while maintaining health and safety protocols. This is the latest episode in AHLA's ongoing Forum Speaker series and will undoubtedly have great insights from each of the panelists.
You can register for the event at this link.
TIM Alumni Hall of Honor
Congratulations to past HLTA Chair Glenn Vergara who was honored by the University of Hawai'i Travel Industry Management Association at their 19th Annual Celebrate a Legacy in Tourism Event! In addition to serving as HLTA's chairperson, Glenn has also twice chaired our statewide Charity Walk committee and is an all-around exemplary of our association. HLTA Board Member Sanj Sappal of Securitas, right, and I were honored to be in a video that was played at the event to honor Glenn.
Congratulations are also in order for ABC Stores President & CEO Paul Kosasa who was honored alongside Glenn as a distinguished TIM School alumni.
House Bill 862
Late last week, House Bill 862 HD2, SD2, CD1 was passed out of conference committee and will be voted upon by both chambers of the Legislature tomorrow. This measure is highly detrimental to the industry and does the following, among other things:
On Thursday, HLTA's O'ahu Chapter held its first-ever golf tournament fundraiser to support O'ahu's Visitor Industry Charity Walk campaign. Held on a beautiful day at Pearl Country Club in 'Aiea, it was a fun event of golf, fellowship, good food and drink. It was wonderful as always to see so many familiar faces, and I was pleased to hear that so many of our players had a great time.
Mahalo to our wonderful event sponsors and all those who donated in support of the tournament. I also want to commend HLTA O'ahu Chapter Chair Simeon Miranda and event co-chair and board member Glenn Nakamura for pulling together a great outing on such short notice. The entire planning committee worked so hard, and their efforts really shined on tournament day!
Mahalo to the Kona-Kohala Chamber of Commerce's Economic Development Committee chaired by Ross Wilson , for hosting me at their monthly meeting. It was great to talk story with President & CEO Wendy Laros and other committee members about the current state and the future of the local tourism industry. We also touched upon issues including the vaccine passports, overtourism, economic diversification, and much more.
The committee was a great audience, and I look forward to connecting with them again in the future!
Governor David Ige just announced his approval of a vaccine passport plan that is slated to begin for interisland travelers who received their vaccination in Hawai'i. The program will begin on May 11. This is quite an accomplishment for us as we have been outspoken advocates for the establishment of such a program from the very beginning.
As you know, vaccine passports are a voluntary program that will allow fully vaccinated Hawai'i residents who have waited the prescribed time after vaccination to travel freely without a pre-arrival test or a mandatory quarantine period. This will not only allow locals to move more freely from county to county safely but will also serve as a trial run for vaccine passports to eventually be extended to trans-Pacific and international visitors. It should also bolster efforts to get more local people vaccinated.
That being said, it is imperative now more than ever that we, as a community, continue to abide by public health mandates like face covering requirements and limits on gathering size if we hope to accelerate this process and really kickstart our economic recovery. Mahalo to Governor Ige, Lt. Gov. Green, General Hara, State Health Director Libby Char, and the county mayors for their work on this initiative. This is truly a win-win situation for all of us- especially employers and local residents who want and need to get back to work!
Free COVID-19 Testing
Today, Hawai'i officially passed the million-dose mark of vaccinations administered. This is a momentous milestone and a significant step towards herd immunity and the long-awaited return to normalcy.
Now, as tourism ramps up and the number of incoming travelers continues to increase, it is critical that hotel staff have access to free COVID-19 testing. We are grateful to announce that Mayor Rick Blangiardi, the City & County of Honolulu, and the National Kidney Foundation of Hawai'i are offering just that.
Testing is available at the following locations:
*Note: If you are onboarding employees or if they do not have a recent pay stub, hotel management can provide a letter stating that the employee in question is on staff and in need of a test.
There is a very simple process to register and appointments are not required in advance. To register, please use this link: oahucitypass.lumisight.com. For more information, you may also visit this website: kidneyhi.org/covid-19-testing-screening.
This is a fantastic resource for our industry, so please share this with anybody that you feel appropriate.
On Tuesday, I was joined by Sheraton Kauai Resort General Manager Chip Bahouth, Embassy Suites by Hilton Waikiki Beach Walk General Manager Simeon Miranda, Wailea Beach Resort General Manager Angela Vento, and Mauna Kea Resort's Vice President of Operations Craig Anderson for a roundtable discussion at the Hawai'i Chapter of the Appraisal Institute's General Membership Meeting. We had a great chat about a variety of topics concerning the local tourism industry including the economic recovery plans of each county in the wake of the pandemic, the changes that COVID-19 have wrought on the industry, and how we can manage tourism responsibly going forward.
Mahalo to Chip, Simeon, Angela, and Craig for joining me for such a riveting discussion and to the Appraisal Institute for hosting us!
Over the course of the weekend, the topic of vaccine passports gained considerable momentum, and comments that I provided to local media were picked up by various news outlets.
"Green hopes to roll out vaccine passport pilot for inter-island travel by May 1," Hawaii News Now, April 10, 2021
"Hawaii one step closer to vaccine exemption for travelers," KHON2, April 10, 2021
"Hawaii eyes summer rollout of a vaccine passport," Travel Weekly, April 10, 2021
"Hawaii’s Vaccine Passport Is Slated To Roll Out By Summer," Forbes, April 12, 2021
While I can appreciate the nuance of a subject as sensitive as vaccinations, our offices have been receiving emails and calls in opposition to the proposed vaccine passport for a number of easily disproven reasons. So for the sake of clarity, I want to make entirely clear HLTA's longstanding stance on the issue:
Vaccine passports are not mandatory, do not discriminate, and will not strip any person of their inalienable rights. As proposed by local government and other jurisdictions around the world, vaccine passports would make it easier to travel without being subjected to pre-arrival testing or mandatory quarantine periods. In Hawai'i's case, the Safe Travels requirements will remain in place as a public health safeguard for those individuals who have not yet been vaccinated or those who will opt to forgo vaccination altogether.
The COVID-19 vaccine was extensively trialed and received the FDA's Emergency Use Authorization. Extensive vaccination of the world's population will not only protect countless people from infection, but will also lessen the severity of your symptoms should you get infected, decrease the likelihood of new COVID-19 variants from spreading, and bring us closer to herd immunity and, by extension, normalcy in our everyday lives.
Yesterday morning, HLTA partnered with Aloha Harvest to host our latest food drive at 'Ilima Intermediate School to benefit furloughed hospitality workers and their families primarily from the Leeward side of O'ahu. This was another successful event thanks to our tireless partner Aloha Harvest and the hard working volunteers of missionaries from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. A special shout out as well to area Senator Kurt Fevella and his staff for helping us to secure the location and coordinate the logistics for the distribution itself.
As you know, the discussions surrounding the vaccine passport concept have been heating up throughout our community as well as in the halls of government. I have been a strong advocate for the establishment of such a passport both in the media and at the State Legislature.
"Hawaii to consider changes to Safe Travels program after latest CDC guidance," Travel Weekly, April 2, 2021
As I have said from the very beginning, we should be making it easier for healthy, vaccinated travelers to come to our state. As of this morning, more than 900,000 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine have been administered to Hawai'i residents, signaling that we are well on our way to achieving the much sought after herd immunity. As the number of vaccinated Hawai'i residents continues to rise, we, as a state, should look to make travel as hassle-free as possible not only to bring more travel industry associates back to work but also the thousands of local residents who are furloughed or who are unemployed.
"Travel leaders urge Hawaii governor to update travel restrictions ASAP," KHON2, April 7, 2021
The Hawai'i Tourism Authority's funding is at stake as they are under fire from some members of the Legislature. During a joint hearing of the Senate Committees on Ways & Means and Commerce & Consumer Protection, members discussed House Bill 862, HD2, SD2 which, among other things, would significantly reduce the State tourism agency's annual funding. HTA would be forced to get their funding from the State's General Fund. After being voted upon on the Senate floor, the measure will go back to the House and possibly headed eventually to a Conference committee.
As you can imagine, HLTA is staunchly opposed to this measure and submitted testimony to this effect. Specifically, it is our position that HTA requires ample funding to adequately research local tourism and market our state on the national and international scale. It is critical that HTA receives the funding necessary to help sell what Hawai'i has to offer if we are to continue our economic recovery in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Yesterday, it was announced that Governor Ige had approved Maui's request that will require incoming travelers to submit to a mandatory rapid COVID-19 test upon arrival. Slated to begin in roughly two weeks, the program was requested by Mayor Victorino and will send travelers who refuse to take the test to a mandatory 10-day quarantine.
As part of his request, Mayor Victorino also indicated his support for a vaccine passport program. While he noted that it may take some time to implement it, his public advocacy for the vaccine passport concept is extremely pleasing to our industry, and we are hopeful that Gov. Ige will ultimately approve Mayor Victorino's proposed pilot program.
Yesterday, the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention issued updated guidance regarding travel that suggests that fully vaccinated people, meaning those that have received their shot(s) and waited the prescribed two weeks, can travel freely around the United States without pre-arrival testing or mandatory quarantine. The guidance also provided for international travel, stating the following:
"Hawaii travel restrictions might loosen as CDC guidelines change for those fully vaccinated," Honolulu Star-Advertiser, April 3, 2021
Our position remains that a vaccine passport is our state's best route toward the full restoration of travel and that a program of this nature could possibly start with interisland travel. This would allow fully vaccinated Hawai'i residents to move freely around the state, thereby allowing families to reconnect, those in need to seek critical medical treatment, and more. It would also serve as a proving ground for the vaccine passport program prior to allowing trans-Pacific and international travelers to come to Hawai'i without a pre-arrival test or a mandatory quarantine period.
"Hawaii visitor industry urges governor to loosen travel restrictions after latest CDC guidance," KHON2, April 2, 2021
All this being said, an effective and well-run vaccine passport program will still be contingent upon our community continuing to do the right things in regard to public health mandates. This includes the practice of proper social distancing and the diligent use of face coverings. Hawai'i is doing an outstanding job of vaccinating residents, but it will all be for naught should we have another outbreak of the virus or, even worse, of a variant.
Finally, enjoy your weekend and Happy Easter to you, your families, and loved ones!
Around the country, doses of the COVID-19 vaccine continue to be administered at a blistering pace. Nationwide, nearly 154 million individual doses have been distributed. Roughly 30% of the U.S. adult population has received at least the first shot, while 17% of the country is already fully vaccinated. Perhaps more importantly, 73.7% of Americans aged 65 or older have received at least one dose of the vaccine.
Locally, Hawai'i residents have also been receiving their vaccinations in great numbers. More than 450,000 people, or 31% of the population, have already received at least one dose of the vaccine. Meanwhile, nearly 20% of Hawai'i residents are already fully vaccinated.
Since the State began Phase-1C of the vaccination schedule, local hospitality workers have also been quickly receiving their vaccinations, and there are still many appointments available. The overall response from those who have started to receive their vaccinations has been heartwarming to say the least. Numerous individuals from the various corners of the tourism sector have reached out to share their excitement regarding their vaccination, and even MidWeek has a shoutout to HLTA in Director of Content Ron Nagasawa's "What's Next?" column.
As a reminder, you may continue to send your lists of associates to be vaccinated to email@example.com. Hospitality workers can also find appointments and more information at this link.
The monthly hospitality industry update meeting with Honolulu Mayor Rick Blangiardi, which we co-sponsor with HTA, has been scheduled for Tuesday, April 6 at 11:30 am. The meeting will be held over Zoom and is open to all HLTA members.
To register for the meeting, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mayor Blangiardi has been extremely receptive to these meetings, and they have been highly productive. If you are available, I recommend that you tune in.
Other Media That May Interest You
As you know, HLTA has continued to push for the establishment of a "vaccine passport" that would allow adequately vaccinated travelers to be exempt from the mandatory quarantine period. This is a hot topic of late with myriad discussions happening at the State Legislature as well as in the media.
"Hawaii moving forward using coronavirus vaccine passport for travel," KHON2, March 30, 2021
"Hawaii explores use of vaccine passports for inter-island travel," USA Today, April 1, 2021
KHON2 also ran a story yesterday that focused on the high demand for rental cars as Hawai'i continues to see visitor arrivals increase. The article, as well as the topic it focused upon, really highlighted the pent up demand for travel that exists across the country right now which bodes well for our overall economic recovery.
"Rental car shortage in Hawaii spikes prices in the hundreds," KHON2, March 31, 2021
In closing, I would just like to wish you all the best for a relaxing Easter holiday. I hope that you are able to relax and enjoy it with your 'ohana.
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