2021 In Review
As 2021 comes to a close, I have been taking stock of the past 12 months, reveling in our wins and taking hard looks at where we could have done better. On the whole, the past year has presented many challenges—some new, some familiar—but I am proud of all that we have accomplished and wanted to share a recap with our members.
HLTA at a Glance
With the COVID-19 pandemic well into its second year in the islands, the Hawai‘i Lodging & Tourism Association’s focus has been directed squarely on enabling its membership, and the visitor industry in general, to respond to these public health and economic crises.
The situation required the cancelation of the Visitor Industry Charity Walk in 2020 and restructuring as virtual events in 2021. HLTA had to postpone the Na Po‘e Pa‘ahana Awards and aio Media Hawai‘i Lodging & Tourism Awards, both opportunities to showcase the hospitality employees and businesses that contribute to the industry and economy. The Hawai‘i Hotel & Restaurant Show has been rescheduled twice.
Despite these developments, HLTA was successful in fulfilling its missions of advocacy, education, and philanthropy, all the while meeting the daily challenges imposed by the pandemic by being nimble, resilient, and creative.
Hotel Health and Safety Standards. HLTA was the first organization in the state to have its Health, Safety, and Security Standards approved by the Department of Health. The standards were developed by hotel general managers and lodging operators statewide, using research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, World Health Organization, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Occupational Health and Safety Administration, American Hotel and Lodging Association, National Restaurant Association, and others. The standards are a baseline for hotels, suitable for operations of all types and sizes, and adaptable to national brand standards.
Hotels for Heroes. Hotels for Heroes was introduced a month into the pandemic to offer complimentary hotel rooms to individuals on the front lines of the pandemic. The project was a partnership of HLTA, Hawai‘i Tourism Authority, and Hawai‘i Visitors and Convention Bureau. Funded by state tourism money, Hotels for Heroes was made available through the Healthcare Association of Hawai‘i, Hawai‘i Medical Association, police and fire departments, state agencies with first-responder mandates, and emergency medical technicians. Thirty-five hotels signed up to participate initially and provided over one thousand room nights in the first two weeks alone.
Outreach Campaigns. The HLTA launched several media projects to generate financial support for those affected by the pandemic, or to involve the community in communicating the seriousness of the situation. Among them was “Stay Home Now, Aloha Later,” which was broadcast on KHON and its sister stations on the mainland and featured recorded messages and performances from local and international celebrities. The money raised has been used for food donations and other means of helping hotel workers in need.
A second initiative was “A Time of Crisis: Stories from Hawa‘i’s Visitor Industry,” a video campaign in which hotel employees shared their personal stories on how the pandemic had affected their lives and those of their coworkers and families.
The COVID-19 Video Challenge was open to public high school seniors in which they were invited to submit a COVID-themed, 30-second video. The winning school—Waiakea High School—received a $10,000 cash prize and the students’ video was broadcast on KHON.
The latest was “Makaukau – We Are Ready,” prepared in time for the reopening of travel to the islands in October 2020. It was a response to the business community’s growing frustration with the pace of tourism’s reopening and the absence of firm government plans to respond to the economic crisis. It was led by HLTA, Chamber of Commerce Hawai‘i, and Hawai‘i Agricultural Foundation, with partners including Hawaiian Airlines, Central Pacific Bank, First Hawaiian Bank, American Savings Bank, the Hawai‘i Community Foundation, Hawaiian Electric Industries, the Hawai‘i Business Roundtable, and eight others.
Public Health Promotion. HLTA, the Waikiki Business Improvement District Association, Waikiki Improvement Association, and Honolulu Police Department unveiled a lamppost banner campaign along the length of Kalakaua Avenue to educate and remind residents and visitors to practice mask wearing, social distancing, and personal hygiene.
Food Drives. The association has led or participated in multiple food giveaways targeting hotel employees. Kau Kokua Kits, an effort of the HLTA and Y. Hata, were distributed twice in 2020, with the food made available at very low prices and distributed at Embassy Suites by Hilton Waikiki Beach Walk and Residence Inn by Marriott Oahu Kapolei.
The HLTA partnered with Hawai‘i Nautical to collect donations of linens, towels, toiletries, cleaning supplies, and furniture for the homeless. The Hawai‘i Nautical crew gathered the items from hotels and businesses across O‘ahu. The donations were distributed to the COVID-19 Temporary Quarantine Center that was established by the Department of Health, City and County of Honolulu, Institute for Human Services, HERE Local 5, and Hawai‘i Homeless Healthcare Hui.
In July, August, and October 2020 and April and May 2021, HLTA and Aloha Harvest collaborated to distribute food to the families of thousands of tourism industry employees, using funds raised by the Aloha Later campaign. Distribution sites have included ‘Aiea High School, the University of Hawai‘i’s West O‘ahu campus, Aloha Stadium, Ilima Intermediate School, and Waipi‘o Soccer Complex. More than 7,000 families have been beneficiaries.
Two “Aloha Later” food distribution events were held in December on Kaua‘i, including one for employees of the Koloa Landing Resort which remained open during the pandemic.
In July 2021, HLTA partnered with Hawai‘i County Mayor Mitch Roth and KTA Super Stores to host a final “Aloha Later” food distribution at the Hilo Hawaiian Hotel. As an incentive for those who have been vaccinated or registered, more than 300 KTA gift cards were given away.
House Bill 862. A large coalition of 35 business and trade organizations, led by HLTA and the Chamber of Commerce Hawai‘i, was front-and-center in opposing House Bill 862, a measure that reduced the Hawai‘i Tourism Authority’s funding and shifted its source from the Transient Accommodations Tax to the general fund, strip the annual $103 million TAT allocation to the counties, and permit the counties to establish their own surcharge with a cap of an additional 3 percent (conceivably increasing the TAT by 30 percent-plus). The coalition succeeded in convincing the governor to veto the measure. After the veto, the Legislature met to override it. Again, the coalition lobbied vigorously to uphold the veto, and fell a single vote short in the Senate to sustain the governor’s action.
City Council Bill 80. The HLTA conveyed its firm opposition to a City Council proposal that would have imposed severe restrictions on hotel operations with regard to staffing levels, sanitation requirements, and other matters rightfully under the purview of hotel management. This government incursion into the operations of private businesses triggered a strong and vocal pushback from hotel general managers and the HLTA membership. The bill was changed to a resolution, which states the Council’s views, but does not have the force of law. A large group of general managers offered testimony in opposition to the proposal.
During the ensuing Legislative Session, we relied upon our relationships to similarly thwart backdoor attempts by special interest to introduce right to recall-type measures at the State level.
Meeting with Elected Officials. Throughout the pandemic, our coalition met with Governor Ige and his administration regularly on a variety of issues including: the efficacy of the Safe Travels program, the State’s vaccination emphasis, and the Governor’s August 23, 2021 request for nonessential travel to halt, and we made the specific recommendation that the State needed to re-open travel by November 1. Our regular appearances with Gov. Ige provided coalition members with ample opportunity to raise specific concerns being faced by their businesses and organizations.
HLTA also partnered with HTA and HVCB to convene regular meetings with the mayor of each county. These regular industry updates have been extremely beneficial to both hear from our elected officials and provide them with insights from the tourism industry.
Political Action. HLTA’s political action committee endorsed a lengthy slate of candidates for the 2020 election, which turned out to be a record-setting election with nearly 70 percent voter participation. Committee members evaluated and endorsed candidates who believe in the importance of the hospitality industry. While the pandemic prevented HLTA from holding candidate forums and mixers, as in the past, endorsements for federal, state, and county offices were announced.
Visitor Public Safety. HLTA hosted its third annual Visitor Public Safety Conference via Zoom in March 2021. This partnership with the Waikiki Improvement Association, Waikiki Business Improvement District Association, Hawai‘i Hotel Visitor Industry Security Association, Retail Merchants of Hawai‘i, and Visitor Aloha Society of Hawai‘i, featured speakers representing state and county government, law enforcement, visitor industry, and nonprofits. Issues discussed included human trafficking, homelessness, and other concerns of the tourism industry and tourism areas.
In April, following a surge of crime in Waikiki, Visitor Public Safety Conference steering committee members including HLTA, HHVISA, WBIDA, and WIA convened again to meet with Prosecutor Alm and members of the City Prosecutor’s Office, Interim Police Chief Rade Vanic and other representatives from the Honolulu Police Department, as well as with Managing Director Michael Formby and other key officials from Mayor Blangiardi’s administration to craft initiatives and strategies to target the problem.
Restaurant, Food & Beverage and Agricultural Committee. HLTA’s new Restaurant, Food & Beverage and Agricultural Committee held two webinars to explore how a critical part of the hospitality industry can work together to become a stronger voice and resource of information for policymakers and the community.
Career Expo. HLTA joined the Honolulu Star-Advertiser and Star-Events for their annual Career Expo at the Blaisdell Exhibition Hall in August 2021. Twenty-two HLTA members displayed booths alongside businesses, nonprofit organizations, and government entities. The businesses had the opportunity to meet with nearly 1,000 prospective employees as they looked to fill much needed positions.
Charity Walk 2021. Despite being cancelled in 2020 and being relegated to a virtual format in 2021, the highly successful Visitor Industry Charity Walk made an impressive return this year with statewide efforts raising more than $2.053 million in monies that were distributed to more than 200 nonprofits organizations around the state. This was especially noteworthy considering that our most successful, in-person Charity Walk raised $2.67 million just two years ago. Bolstered by generous corporate donations and another strong performance from Maui, one could hardly tell that this year’s walk was held entirely online.
Hotels for Healthcare Heroes. Modeled after the original Hotels for Heroes initiative, HLTA partnered with the Healthcare Association of Hawai‘i and President & CEO Hilton Raethel to provide two-night staycations to doctors, nurses, and other clinical staff—a program that was strongly supported by Lt. Gov. Green and the county mayors. Over the course of seven weekends in the fall of 2021, 715 heroes from 34 different hospital groups were provided 1,430 room nights at hotels around the state. These were made possible strictly through donations by HLTA member hotels.
Honoring Citizen-Scholars. While the pandemic precluded HLTA from honoring the outstanding seniors in-person at the traditional luncheon, 41 of the top seniors representing public high schools statewide each received a $1,000 college scholarship, with the top student from each county earning an additional $2,500 and the top male and female student in the state receiving $5,000. The recipients were introduced through a Zoom event in May. Twenty-eight businesses or organizations donated money for the scholarships.
Honoring Educators. HLTA and ClimbHI awarded $1,000 scholarships for the first time to two outstanding public school educators to gain experience in and understanding of the hospitality industry. Fern White from Hawai‘i Island and Alyssa Alcos of Wai‘anae High School were selected for the grants.
Workforce Development. In another facet of tourism industry education, HLTA again joined with ClimbHI to help sponsor the ClimbHI Service Excellence Certificate which marries unique local philosophies with the renowned academic excellence of the School of Hotel Administration at the Cornell University SJ Johnson College of Business. Students who pursue this on-demand certificate participate in online training modules to develop fundamental skills for use in the hospitality industry.
Generational Mentoring. HLTA has continued to sponsor the Generational Mentoring program, in which travel management students from the University of Hawai‘i, Hawai‘i Pacific University, and Brigham Young University Hawai‘i mentor under general managers or executives at more than a dozen resorts or tourism enterprises. In 2021, we welcomed our fourth class of distinguished, Generational Mentees.
Scholarship Golf Tournaments. HLTA succeeded in hosting three golf tournaments to raise money for its scholarship program and other needs during welcome breaks in the pandemic. The most recent, the 21st annual, was held at Pearl Country Club and raised more than $90,000 for the foundation to provide scholarships to students around our state.
Woman of the Year. HLTA's Women in Lodging & Tourism Committee honored 2021 Woman of the Year Julie Morikawa, the president and executive director of ClimbHI. Morikawa’s organization works to inspire students to finish high school and pursue higher education by exposing them to possible career paths and the processes necessary to achieve these goals.
Polynesian Football Hall of Fame. In July 2021, the Polynesian Football Hall of Fame hosted free clinics for local high school football players at Waiakea and Farrington high schools which HLTA, as a sponsor, helped to secure. More than 400 local athletes turned out for the event that was facilitated by 40 local coaches and former NFL players.
I would be remiss not to mention how all of this was made possible by the efforts of many people. From the HLTA staff, to our amazing Board of Directors and our tireless committees and committee chairs, it is the efforts of all that made this year such a success. I am grateful for each of you and am eager to see what challenges and successes 2022 will bring.
Have a wonderful and safe New Year,
As we head into the Christmas weekend, our entire state is experiencing an increasingly troubling surge in COVID-19 cases with numbers spiking to more than 1,500 across the state today. The Omicron variant is becoming more widespread across the globe and is now the most prevalent strain in the United States.
While the early data seems to suggest that the medical outcomes for those infected by Omicron are significantly better than that of earlier variants, the quick increase and significant community spread is troubling. I am grateful that we are not experiencing further restrictions, but I do want to urge you to exercise good judgement and be wise about your choices over the holidays. As I told my family, friends, staff, and others, we must remain vigilant and do our best to stop this surge as quickly as possible.
Please take care of yourself, your families, and loved ones as you celebrate this holiday weekend. Aloha Kalikimaka!
Yesterday, Mayor Victorino vetoed Bill 148 (2021) which would have placed a moratorium on building permits for visitor accommodations in Maui County. This measure, which took several forms before the Maui County Council, was something that we had opposed from the very beginning as it is our position that a moratorium will not address calls for better managed tourism and will significantly hurt not only the lodging industry but also the trades sector of the economy.
I provided the following statement in support of Mayor Victorino's veto which sums up our position on the measure:
"The Hawai‘i Lodging & Tourism Association supports Mayor Victorino’s decision to veto Bill 148. If the overall intent of the Council is to place limits on tourism in Maui County, it is our position that a moratorium on building permits for visitor accommodations is not the solution that the Council is seeking. As it is currently written, this measure will disproportionately affect legal brick-and-mortar visitor accommodations and local construction trades and fails to adequately address illegal vacation rental units—which is where Maui County has seen the most growth in visitor accommodations in recent years. To that end, we stand ready to work with the Council and the Victorino administration to address the issue of illegal vacation rentals and the immense impact these units have on the inventory of affordable housing for Maui residents."
Many of the Councilmembers seem poised to override the veto and, although it will be an uphill battle, we need to support Mayor Victorino for making the tough and right decision.
In communications to you last week, I raised several areas of concern regarding the rollout of Honolulu's new transient accommodations tax and noted that I had requested a meeting with Mayor Blangiardi on the matter.
This morning, representatives from Hyatt, Halekulani Corporation, Prince Resorts, Marriott, Highgate Hotels, Aqua-Aston Hospitality, joined me in a productive meeting with the mayor, City Budget Director Andrew Kawano and his Deputy Director Carrie Castle, Corporation Counsel Dana Viola, and Chief of Staff Sam Moku to express our concerns with the OTAT, the ordinance's effective date, and other administrative issues that have arisen. Mahalo to Mayor Blangiardi who, recognizing the seriousness of the situation, quickly convened a meeting for us to work towards an amicable solution.
Going into the meeting, I especially wanted to draw the administration's attention to Section 8A-1.23 which authorizes the Budget Director to adopt administrative rules for the OTAT assessment and collection process pursuant to Chapter 91 of the Hawai'i Revised Statutes and asks for public input. Kudos to our members in the meeting who did an excellent job of stating the plight and predicament the hotel industry finds itself in given the short timetable.
We are all well aware of the various issues surrounding the OTAT, and it was refreshing to hear that the administration recognized that there is an air of confusion at this time and that they understand the quandary the industry finds itself in with the instant implementation of the tax. I urged Mayor Blangiardi and his administration to be both flexible and fair as they begin to collect the OTAT, and they agreed that they would be as accommodating as possible as the new tax goes into effect.
Mayor Blangiardi noted that Deputy Budget Director Carrie Castle will serve as the point of contact for any and all OTAT inquiries and asked that these be emailed directly to BFS@honolulu.gov. Moreover, it was also suggested that lodging operations do their utmost best to document everything related to the OTAT as best as possible. This includes correspondence with travel partners and guests, administrative rollout of the new tax, and work orders for website and collateral updates to name a few examples. If you can show that you have been conscientious in implementing the OTAT, the administration will be understanding and flexible when reviewing the first collection and will try to accommodate any issues that crop up in the coming months.
HLTA will continue to serve as a resource for you as the OTAT goes into effect. Should you have any questions or concerns, please contact me or my VP of Government & Community Affairs Jared Higashi at email@example.com at any time.
Governor Ige held a press conference this morning to discuss the alarming rise of new COVID-19 cases that we are currently experiencing. Alongside State DOH Director Char, he noted that the new cases are a mix of both the Delta and Omicron variants while Dr. Char reported that the current research seems to indicate that Omicron is extremely transmissible but has shown a lower incidence of hospitalization than previous variants—a small blessing for which we should be grateful.
These things being said, we must continue to take precautions to avoid rampant spread of COVID-19, an assessment that Governor Ige also included in his remarks today. While I am pleased that he made clear that neither new restrictions or changes to the Safe Travels Program are forthcoming, I remain cautious heading into the holiday season. As both the Governor and Dr. Char and the Lt. Governor are reminding us: we should exercise good judgement on how and where we celebrate the holiday season during this holiday season.
This morning, a group of tourism and Waikiki-area stakeholders met with Honolulu Prosecutor Steven Alm and Deputy Prosecutor Tom Brady to discuss a worrying spike in thefts and and an overall increase in crime in the Waikiki area. Joining me in our discussion with the Honolulu Prosecutor were Waikiki Improvement Association President Rick Egged, VASH President & CEO Jessica Lani Rich, Retail Merchants of Hawai'i President Tina Yamaki, WBIDA Vice President of Operations Brandon Barbour, and Waikiki Neighborhood Board Chair Bob Finley.
We enjoyed an extremely productive discussion on a wide range of topics affecting both the Waikiki area and the community at large, including Chinatown. It was encouraging to hear directly from Prosecutor Alm that he plans to raise several issues surrounding habitual offenders directly with the Judiciary during their upcoming conference as well as his plans to convene a meeting in the new year to start the process on establishing a Weed & Seed site in Waikiki. I have communicated to him that our group is prepared to identify community partners who support the initiative, and we are most anxious to begin the discussion on the merits of this program.
Another key takeaway from the meeting was the need for consistent and timely reporting, especially of property crimes. Prosecutor Alm made it clear that his office will continue to prosecute these crimes including petty offenses with priority going to repeat offenders. His office has been working closely with HPD to identify these individuals who are habitually committing crimes.
We will provide appropriate updates as we strive to make our community a safer and healthier place.
As I've always said: you can't thank people enough.
This year's Charity Walk posed numerous challenges ranging from State and county restrictions to our first-ever virtual format. Despite these challenges, organizers, participants, donors, and supporters found new and creative ways to make Charity Walk possible, raising $2.053 million in the process. This is especially impressive when you consider that our all-time best fundraising total in a normal year, with an in-person walk was $2.67 million in 2019. Comparing the fine details between 2019 and 2021, it's easy for anyone to see that our tradition of giving is alive and well, and that is thanks in large part to all of you.
On Wednesday, HLTA VP of Government & Community Affairs Jared Higashi and I joined the Hospitality Housekeeping Council for their annual Christmas luncheon at Jade Seafood Restaurant. It was such a treat to be able to reconnect with the folks who make up one HLTA's most active committees. Pictured above with me from left to right are Shelly Awaya, Hao Dang-Tanacsos, and Teresa Calabrese.
Charity Walk Kaua'i gathered at Keoki's Paradise on Thursday for their annual VICW check distribution event. Pictured at center are top fundraiser Lillian Watari (pink dress), Kaua'i Charity Walk Chair Beres Wall, and HLTA Kaua'i Executive Director Samira Siale
Last week, I had the pleasure of joining the teams on Kaua'i and Hawai'i Island at their respective Charity Walk check distribution events.
On Thursday, Charity Walk Kaua'i gathered at Keoki's Paradise in Kōloa to hand out more than $260,000 to close to fifty nonprofit organizations that participated in this year's fundraising efforts. This was a huge year for the Garden Isle—especially with Charity Walk being held in a virtual format—and they did an amazing job in finding new and creative ways to drive participation. The event was attended by many of the Garden Island's elected officials led by Senate President Ron Kouchi and Council Chair Arryl Kaneshiro. Sheraton Kaua'i Resort General Manager Chip Bahouth and Cliffs at Princeville General Manager Jim Braman again issued a fair warning that “they've got their eyes on O'ahu's Charity Walk numbers and are pushing hard to pass O'ahu next year.“ 😎
On Friday, Hawai'i Island held their allocation event at the Hilton Waikoloa where they handed out more than $282,000 to local nonprofits. This was another exceptional performance in a virtual setting led by Charity Walk Chair Simon Amos, HLTA Hawai'i Island Chair Craig Anderson, and ably assisted by Bambi Lau and their team over on Moku o Keawe. They, too, exceeded all expectations. The youngest of the Hawaiian Islands came out swinging this year, and it's starting to look like 2022 is anybody's game...at least for second place (Maui continues to prove that they are nō ka ʻoi).
Once again, I cannot say mahalo enough to everyone on all the islands for making our 42nd Annual Visitor Industry Charity Walk a huge success!
Pictured above are some of the Hawai'i Island Charity Walk participants who received checks at the distribution event held on Friday. Standing in the back row are Mufi, Hawai'i Island Charity Walk Chair Simon Amos, and HLTA Hawai'i Island Chapter Chair Craig Anderson
While on the neighbor islands, HLTA VP of Government & Community Affairs Jared Higashi and I called upon the county mayors to meet and discuss a variety of county issues currently affecting the visitor industry. I was very grateful to have productive discussions with Kaua'i Mayor Derek Kawakami and Managing Director Michael Dahilig (left photo), as well as with Hawai'i Island Mayor Mitch Roth and Special Assistant to the Mayor Steve Bader (right photo).
Red Hill Fuel Tanks
As I am sure we have all been following the developing story at the Red Hill fuel tanks, I wanted to share a few quick thoughts about the possible implications of a possible contamination of our island's drinking water. As it stands, the initial leak of jet fuel was found to have originated in the Red Hill shaft. The Board of Water Supply subsequently shut down the Halawa shaft as a precaution. While the entire island technically draws from the same well, the only contamination that has been found thus far is in the Red Hill shaft. Over the weekend, the United States Navy announced the suspension of operations of the Red Hill fuel tanks and is working to address the contamination of a water supply that supports nearly 100,000 people.
The possible aftereffects of a widespread contamination of our water supply are nearly unquantifiable. While the leak is contained right now, if it were to spread to neighboring communities—or the aquifer itself—the repercussions for O'ahu's entire populace would be far-reaching and severe. The mere possibility of this occurring could possibly affect any strong comeback that the local tourism industry is planning for over the holiday period. As it stands, BWS has already encouraged residents to be wise with their water usage; should a situation develop where there is a water shortage or water rationing, the public debate around tourism and anti-tourism sentiments will surely spike again.
All these things being said, initial reporting indicates that the leak is confined to a single shaft. While there is no clear path forward at the moment, I am confident that everyone involved recognizes the importance of prioritizing and protecting O'ahu's residents and our water. We are going to continue to monitor the situation and will share any pertinent information with you.
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