Governor Ige Meeting
Yesterday, our coalition of tourism, business, nonprofit, and labor groups met with Governor Ige, HTA President & CEO John De Fries, DBEDT Director Mike McCartney, and members of the Governor's team to discuss his recent request for nonessential travel to halt. We went into the meeting with the hopes of stressing the need to strike a fine balance between slowing the spread of COVID-19 while continuing to recover our economy, and we offered some ideas and initiatives on how we can achieve that delicate balance. All in all, it was a productive discussion with Gov. Ige, and we are looking forward to continuing these sessions with the Governor and his team on a regular basis.
Gov. Ige also shared data about the current COVID-19 surge that you may find of interest:
This data highlights much of what we have been saying for months: We need to continue to push vaccination, abide by public health mandates regarding large groups and social distancing, wear masks, and protect each other. Additionally, as anti-tourism sentiments and misinformation continue to grow, we must keep pushing back with the facts and data above.
COVID Guest Policy
A handful of situations have arisen over the past couple of weeks regarding hotel policy for guests who are COVID-19 positive. While I understand that every COVID case is ultimately unique and requires individualized customer service, the current State emergency proclamation makes clear that lodging operations are obligated to honor any existing reservation a guest may have and must house said guest for isolation purposes or find them alternate accommodations.
"A hotel property’s COVID-19 Health and Safety Plan shall address all applicable guidance from the CDC and it shall be the responsibility of the hotel operator of each property to accommodate guests who become positive for COVID-19 or are identified as close contacts of a person who is positive for COVID-19, either by accommodating these guests at the property or by securing alternative accommodations."
This was enacted after consultation between industry stakeholders and Governor Ige, and we must try our utmost to abide by this policy. As the Delta variant makes its way through our population, hospital beds are in short supply, emergency responders and medical professionals are being taxed to their limits, and the various departments and organizations tasked with addressing the pandemic are stretched precariously thin. We must—if at all possible—try to accommodate these guests without foisting them on any other agency that is currently being overwhelmed by new COVID-19 cases.
If you would like to discuss further please feel free to contact myself, Jared Higashi (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Jared Ellis (email@example.com).
Yesterday saw several announcements that will present challenges for our industry. In press conferences and media appearances yesterday, Honolulu Mayor Rick Blangiardi cancelled all large events spanning the next four weeks and Governor David Ige urged all nonessential travel to cease. Mayor Blangiardi's declaration really came as no surprise as it aligns the City & County of Honolulu with the State's current COVID-19 mitigation efforts. The Governor’s expressed desire is much more complicated and confusing.
In statements that I have made, I noted that the Governor's request to our prospective travelers was not a mandate or executive order and does not carry the force of law. It is our position that there is a safe way for travel to continue, and the data backs this up as an extremely low number of COVID-19 cases have been tied to tourists. We have concerns that his request will discourage mindful, responsible travelers from coming here, but it will not stop the extractive, opportunistic tourists that we are looking to avoid. Moreover, we are heading into a shoulder season in September and October where leisure travel to Hawai'i will inevitably decrease by double digits. And, we have yet to experience any international travel or meetings, incentives, and conventions which is critically important for a robust and sustainable tourism recovery.
These things considered, I am coordinating a meeting with Gov. Ige and his team with a coalition of private businesses, community organizations, labor unions, trade associations, and visitor industry stakeholders to discuss options that we can take as a state to strike a balance between public health and safety that will, hopefully, assuage some of the Governor's concerns and will keep our economy open. This is the same coalition that supported his veto of House Bill 862.
The Honolulu Star-Advertiser ran an article Saturday that discussed the current reluctance by many businesses to require vaccination for their employees. The piece reported the results of a recent survey that found that more than half (57%) of respondents said they would not mandate vaccination for their workers. While the hospitality industry has led the way in employee vaccination, there is still much room for progress across the entire business sector. As it has been shown again and again, vaccination is our single most effective means of stopping the COVID-19 virus and the highly transmissible Delta variant.
Over the past 48 hours, there have been numerous developments that I am hopeful will increase the likelihood of people getting vaccinated and of businesses requiring vaccination. Perhaps most notably, the FDA has granted full approval of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccination. This has been a major talking point of those opposed to vaccination, and will undoubtedly soothe anxiety for some who have been hesitant to be vaccinated due to its emergency use authorization. Additionally, the CDC released a new report today that found that unvaccinated individuals are 29.2 times as likely to be hospitalized as vaccinated people. This is a staggering new finding that highlights both the efficacy and importance of COVID-19 vaccination.
21st Annual Scholarship Golf Tournament
Last week, we hosted our 21st Annual Scholarship Golf Tournament at Pearl Country Club. Thanks to the generous contributions of our members, industry partners, and friends, I am excited to report that we raised more than $90,000 which will help fuel our foundation's efforts to provide scholarships to students and educators around our state!
We were favored with excellent testimonies from three future leaders of our hospitality industry including Waipahu High School's Janisse Ibana and Kaiser High School's Rhema Wong, both of whom are Ho'oilina Scholars currently at the UH School of Travel Industry Management at the Shidler College of Business. Jessica Chang of 'Aiea High School, O'ahu's top Citizen-Scholar for 2021, is bound for Cornell University's School of Hotel Administration in Upstate New York.
None of this would have been possible without you. Team sponsors, players, in-kind donors, volunteers, and HLTA staff all came together to make this event a reality. I want to give a special shoutout to the HLTA Golf Tournament Committee and Committee Chair John Hulihe'e who worked tirelessly to host a safe, successful, and fun-filled event.
I also want to recognize all attendees for their flexibility in regard to State and county public health mandates and the protective measures that I called for in order to participate in the wake of the rising cases of COVID-19 sweeping through our community. I truly appreciate everybody's kōkua in this regard as the success of our golf tournament really demonstrated that these kinds of events are possible when we pay attention to the science and do our utmost to care for the wellbeing of our neighbors.
TAT Rail Funding
Honolulu Civil Beat ran an interesting article this morning regarding discussions between the City & County of Honolulu and HART on the feasibility of using the new 3% TAT surcharge as a form of bailout for the rail project which is currently experiencing a $3.6B budgetary shortfall.
As I noted in my comments to Civil Beat, this is just the latest action from local government that would use our industry again to fund initiatives not necessarily aligned with tourism objectives. You may recall that, in 2017, we strongly opposed the State Legislature's addition of one percent to the TAT to cover the rail project's budgetary shortfall. Rather than always relying on the visitor industry, this would be an opportune time to urge the City to focus on taking action on illegal short-term vacation rentals as this stands to generate millions of dollars for their fiscal needs.
With the current attitudes surrounding overtourism and the industry as a whole, we need to vigilantly oppose any form of additional taxes that work against the interests of an industry that the State and counties rely upon for thousands of jobs for our citizenry.
Maui Moratorium Veto
Yesterday, the Maui County Council took up a vote to override Mayor Victorino's veto of Bill 60 (2021) which would have placed a moratorium on the issuance of building permits for visitor accommodations in West and South Maui for the next two years. In a surprising turn of events, joining the steadfast opposition of Council Chair Alice Lee and Councilmember Yuki Lei Sugimura were council members Paltin and Rawlings-Fernandez, who switched their positions citing potential legal challenges to the measure. The final votes were cast at 4 noes to 4 ayes with one councilmember absent. The verdict: The Mayor's veto stands.
We opposed this targeted legislation from the onset and supported the Mayor's veto. I pointed to the fact that not only is this measure being proposed at a time that the industry is trying to recover from a global pandemic, but by restricting the number of brick-and-mortar lodging options available for visitors, which has actually decreased in recent years, it will drive visitors to book more short-term vacation rentals.
I would like to give kudos to all our industry partners that weighed in on this matter and to the Maui Hotel & Lodging Association led by Chair Michael Pye, Executive Director Rod Antone, and Membership Coordinator Christine Christensen for staying on top of this issue and for vocalizing the industry's stance before the Maui Council.
With the successful veto of Bill 60, the council now shifts their attention to an island-wide moratorium proposal that was sent to the Maui Planning Commission in June. The Commission has till September 7 to schedule a public hearing on the measure.
This past Thursday, Governor Ige held a news conference to outline the details in his latest Emergency Proclamation. He announced, in concert with the county mayors, that state and county workers will now be required to get the COVID-19 vaccination. If for personal reasons they choose not to get inoculated, they will need to provide weekly COVID-19 tests. His announcement came on the same day that Hawai'i recorded its highest number of new positive coronavirus cases since the onset of the pandemic with a staggering count of 655, and the number of daily cases since then continues to exceed 600. Per Governor Ige's remarks, government workers under the state and county executive branches must show proof of vaccination by August 16th or they will be subject to regular testing at their own cost.
During his press conference, it was gratifying to hear Governor's response to a question posed by the media on what kind of message he would send to tourists in light of his announcements. The Governor responded by stating that tourists have the option to visit our islands and that we continue to see strong demand. While we do see an increase in travel related COVID-19 cases, the vast majority of these are coming from return residents, and that those tied to visitors to our islands continues to be a very low percentage. More often than not, our industry finds itself at the opposite end of pointed fingers, so it is appreciated when government officials help us dispel the notion that tourism is to blame.
In addition to the new vaccination policy for government workers, induced in the Governor's latest Emergency Proclamation is the end of the State's eviction moratorium, and the continuation of the mandatory mask mandate for indoor public areas and the Safe Travels program.
This past Wednesday, we joined the Honolulu Star-Advertiser and Star-Events for their annual Career Expo at the Neal Blaisdell Exhibition Hall. Twenty-two of our members displayed booths alongside businesses, nonprofit organizations, and government entities from across the island. Throughout the course of the day vendors had the opportunity to meet with nearly 1,000 prospective employees as they look to fill much needed positions. In addition to the many impressive employers present, the expo also showcased a high level of health and safety protocols with a vaccination, mask, and temperature check, extra wide walkways, sanitation stations, and more than ample social distancing.
Mahalo to the Star-Advertiser for their ongoing partnership and for allowing us the opportunity to place a special emphasis on the hospitality industry at their expo.
DOH COVID-19 Dashboard - New Case
After months of relatively low numbers and high rates of vaccination, we currently find ourselves in the midst of a growing surge of new COVID-19 cases and heading in the wrong direction. The combination of anti-vaccine sentiments, vaccine hesitancy, and the hyper-contagious Delta Variant are spiking the number of infections - especially among the unvaccinated members of our population.
All of the available data and research supports the finding that the vaccination against COVID-19 is highly effective against the new variant. It also finds that vaccinated individuals who still manage to get infected (also known as breakthrough cases) experience significantly more tame symptoms and runs a substantially lower risk of mortality.
DOH COVID-19 Dashboard - Community Spread Cases Only
The data provided above by the State Department of Health shows that the vast majority of new cases in Hawai'i are occurring as a result of community spread. Local residents, especially those who have not yet been vaccinated, are spreading the virus to their families, friends, and those they come in contact with, and we must get through to them as soon as possible.
There are countless reasons to get vaccinated, even if you feel hesitant. First and foremost, it protects you and those around you from infection. Secondly, it almost completely eradicates the possibility of severe illness or death. Finally, slowing the spread of the pandemic itself decreases the likelihood of another variant appearing. As we know, rampant spread of the virus will result in mutations that can be more infectious (like the Delta variant) or worse...more resistant to the vaccine.
Our community had seemingly turned the corner on the pandemic, and our economy was finally starting to recoup the losses incurred throughout the pandemic before this latest surge. We cannot afford to move backward. A return to lockdowns and business restrictions will spell disaster for many of us, and we must do everything we can to avoid this.
This is my plea to you again: please get vaccinated. Encourage your loved ones, your friends, your colleagues, and your co-workers to get vaccinated. This is the best way to protect ourselves and each other.
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