Last week, HLTA partnered with Aloha Harvest to host our final food distribution event in support of O'ahu hospitality workers and their families who are still feeling the effects of the pandemic. More than 1,000 families signed up in advance for a food bundle, each of which included fresh produce, milk, eggs, and protein
This was the first time that we hosted a food distribution event at the Waipi'o Soccer Complex, and I want to thank Park Manager “Shan” Ramachandran Sudharshan and City Department of Emergency Management Disaster Preparedness Officer Crystal van Beelen for helping us make this a success. I would also like to thank Honolulu Disposal Service for sponsoring a dumpster bin for the day. Finally, I want to send a special mahalo to all the amazing volunteers who came out and staffed the event and shout out to HLTA O'ahu Chapter Chair Simeon Miranda who joined us for the day!
Tomorrow, we will host our annual Citizen-Scholars Awards Ceremony via Zoom to honor the Class of 2021. Hailing from public high schools around the state, each of these students represents the very best and brightest in their school and their community. This year's class features an outstanding cadre of students who have excelled above and beyond both inside and outside of the classroom. The accomplishments of this particular class are all the more impressive when you consider that many of the successes of these 41 Citizen-Scholars occurred during a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic.
It is only fitting that this year we announce new prizes for the Citizen-Scholars program. This year, a top student was selected from each of the four counties. These students will each receive an additional $2,500. We have also decided to award prizes to the top male and female scholar statewide; these two students will each receive an additional $5,000.
Mahalo to our partners, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser and the Department of Education, who help to make this possible year after year. Special thanks also to each of our sponsors who generously helped to provide funding for this year's Scholars:
HLTA and other industry partners have joined International Market Place and The Queen's Health Systems to host three vaccination events this summer. Scheduled from noon through 5 p.m. for May 28, June 4, and June 11, these events are open to the public at no cost. While organizers do suggest making an appointment, walk-ins will also be accepted.
These events are part of an overarching effort to get more and more of our community vaccinated against the COVID-19 virus as quickly as possible. As such, International Market Place is offering one hour of free parking to those who are being vaccinated. After the first hour, normal validation rates will apply.
If you are interested in pre-registering for an appointment, please click this link. Is is also suggested that participants complete the Queen's registration form to bring with them to their appointment.
If you have any questions about the vaccination events, please do not hesitate to contact our offices at (808) 923-0407.
In related COVID-19 news, Waikiki Bureau Chief Allison Schaefer's latest article in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser took a deep dive into the costs associated with the State's testing programs as we are currently the only state in the nation that still requires testing for travelers who have been fully vaccinated. While our geographic location and our reliance on trans-Pacific and international travelers obviously plays into this, it bears mentioning that prospective travelers are finding themselves with more and more destinations from which to choose. It is critical for our overall economic wellbeing that we not price ourselves out of competition and drive visitors to other locales. This is why HB862 is of critical concern to us because, if implemented by the counties, it would make Hawai'i the most expensive leisure destination in the nation.
In this regard, it was especially heartening to hear Gov. Ige indicate during his press conference this afternoon that vaccine passports for trans-Pacific travelers is the critical next step. He further stated that this can be expected over the summer, and we are eagerly awaiting this announcement.
Gov. Ige also announced the immediate lift of the mask mandate while outdoors. This is a positive step, but we must continue to remain vigilant on our properties. Now is not the time to lose sight of our goals.
The Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported today on the State's efforts to crack down on illegal short-term vacation rental units through continued enforcement efforts and tax collection on units that have been skirting the system. This year alone, tax investigators have collected $4.1M in back taxes and estimate that they will end up taking in more than $12M by the end of the year. In one alarming instance, the Star-Advertiser reported that a single unit was required to pay the State $400,000 in back taxes.
It has always been HLTA's position that legal short-term rental units that pay their fair share of the necessary taxes are more than welcome in appropriately zoned areas where they are deemed legal. We do, however, take issue with those units and operators that have proliferated in residential areas and don't pay suitable property tax rates, the GET or TAT, and we have continued to push our State and county governments to increase their overall efforts and seek legal recourse on those that are operating illegally.
Prior to the pandemic, the number of visitors to our state who opted to stay in short-term rental units rather than traditional, brick and mortar lodging locations was growing at a steady rate, and this trend has continued throughout the pandemic. It is imperative that these units be on the same level playing field, and I was pleased to see Gov. Ige echo our long-held belief that these units should be paying their fair share of taxes.
I hope that this served as a positive step toward our State and county governments collaborating to address this nettlesome issue. State Department of Taxation Director Isaac Choy indicated as much in his comments to the Star-Advertiser, and it is a subject that we will continue to prioritize through HLTA's advocacy efforts.
Yesterday, the State officially kicked off the vaccine passport exemption for the Safe Travels program. This is a concept of which we have been vocal proponents, and we are extremely pleased that the day is finally here.
As you may recall, the vaccine passport allows for individuals who were fully vaccinated in Hawai'i and have waited the requisite two weeks after their last dose to travel freely around the state without needing a pre-arrival test or a mandatory quarantine period. I felt strongly from the very beginning that debuting vaccine passports for Hawai'i residents was the best course of action for a number of reasons. First and foremost, it would allow vaccinated locals that ability to travel from county to county for any number of reasons. Secondly, it would allow those who oversee the Safe Travels program an opportunity to stress test the vaccine passport program on a smaller group of individuals rather than opening the floodgates right at the onset.
"Interisland travel vaccine exemptions commence," Honolulu Star-Advertiser, May 12, 2021
In the Honolulu Star-Advertiser's coverage today, Waikiki Bureau Chief Allison Schaefers spoke to interisland travelers who utilized the system as well as travel industry leaders who echoed my optimism but were also pragmatic about the effect that this will have on the tourism industry as a whole. While this is a great moment of progress, our goal is still to re-establish hassle-free travel for trans-Pacific visitors as soon as it is possible to safely do so.
We are pleased to officially announce that our 194th General Membership Meeting will be held in person at the beautiful Andaz Maui at Wailea Resort. This year, our signature event will run from October 14 through October 16 and will feature a bevy of speakers, learning sessions, networking opportunities, and our ever-popular Sponsor Showcase.
Our conference fee this year will be $425 per person including all of our plenary sessions, evening dinner receptions, and Saturday's Lunch & Learn (optional Wednesday golf and Friday Lunch & Learn are also available). We are also offering a special early registration rate of $400 per person for those who register between now and May 31.
Over the coming weeks we will continue to share with you more details on the GMM schedule and our slate of events, including Sponsor Showcase registration, which will open June 1st. In the meantime, please take advantage of the special room rate of $359/night with waived resort fee. You can make your reservations at this link.
Should you have any questions or concerns, please feel free to contact HLTA Director of Membership & Special Projects at firstname.lastname@example.org.
*All members must be in good standing to attend GMM.
Travel & Tourism Week
Each year during the first full week of May, the United States observes National Travel & Tourism Week (#NTTW21) which celebrates the immense value that travel represents to the economy, businesses of all types, as well as our personal health.
National Travel & Tourism Week was established via congressional resolution in 1983, and I was excited to kick off this year's commemoration by joining Hawaii News Now's Sunrise Team for a live interview out front of the historic Moana Surfrider to provide a status report on the health of the local tourism industry.
"Visitors returning to Waikiki offer much-needed boon for tourism industry, experts say," Hawaii News Now, May 3, 2021
In the time since my last message, there has been a great deal of chatter in the local media that has echoed HLTA's position on HB862 which would drastically change HTA in terms of both funding and organization and strip the counties' annual TAT allocation while also allowing for the establishment of an additional 3% surcharge. It has been heartening to see so many in the media who clearly understand the ramifications of the measure as we continue to petition Gov. Ige to consider wielding his veto powers.
The Maui News ran a great article reporting on Mayor Victorino's press release that indicated his support for the three percent county surcharge on transient accommodations. As I noted in my comments to the paper, we are well aware that there is a difference of opinion among the four county mayors, and I hope that the other mayors will continue to show restraint until the legislative process is complete.
Tom Yamachika at The Garden Island also issued a column that discussed the various issues surrounding HB862. He equated this move by the Legislature to "kicking the [visitor industry] while it's down." I feel strongly that any increase to the cost of doing business in Hawai'i is ill-timed and should be delayed until the industry is back on its feet.
The editorial team at the Honolulu Star-Advertiser also took the Legislature to task in a recent column where they reported that Gov. Ige has expressed concerns with HB862 while concurring with his uneasiness regarding the measure.
REMINDER: Tomorrw at 8 a.m. HST, Lt. Governor Josh Green will join Nevada Attorney General Aaron Ford and AHLA President & CEO Chip Rogers on AHLA's The Forum Speaker Series for a discussion panel that will cover tourism promotion and how to balance this while maintaining health and safety protocols.
You can register for the event at this link.
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