The issue of vaccination has been a contentious one for our community throughout the pandemic. Perhaps even more divisive is the debate centering on the legality of vaccine mandates and what power, if any, employers have to require their employees to be vaccinated.
Sensing these questions, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission issued guidance indicating that employers can legally require their employees to be vaccinated against the COVID-19 virus as a condition of employment. Despite this guidance, concerns remained that other laws including the Food, Drug, & Cosmetic Act (FDCA) may have restricted an employer's ability to mandate the vaccine in light of its Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) status. The U.S. Department of Justice, however, issued an opinion to the contrary in July of this year, stating that Section 564 of the FDCA permits employers to impose vaccination as a condition of employment despite the EUA. The opinion applies to both public and private employers.
All these things considered, it is no surprise that governmental bodies and private employers around our state have wrestled with new policies, how to apply them, and how to best inform their respective workforces of new requirements. While HLTA has not taken a public position on employer-mandated vaccination policies due to the wide variety of management groups, labor unions, and property types around the hospitality sector, we have been vocally supportive of statewide vaccination efforts.
As such, I want to take a moment to publicly laud the Kahala Hotel & Resort for announcing their decision to require vaccination among all of their employees. General Manager Joe Ibarra is to be commended for making this announcement.
If you have any questions about vaccination policies, please feel free to contact our offices at any time.
We are a just a few days into our first-ever, virtual Visitor Industry Charity Walk, and we have been seeing great participation! Though the technical "Walk Window" runs for just two weeks, we will be accepting donations to Charity Walk through the end of the month, so please continue your fundraising efforts and share this information with your family, friends and colleagues. There will be prizes available for select winners!
To contribute, please visit CharityWalkHawaii.org.
Finally, we are in need of information from our members. Below, you will find a link to a confidential Google Form with just a handful of short questions. I can assure you that this information will remain confidential and any interpretation of the information shared used in our advocacy efforts will not under any circumstance be attributed to a specific property, company, or organization.
If you have any questions or concerns regarding this form, or would prefer not to answer in writing, please feel free to contact me directly at any time.
HLTA SURVEY - Please click here.
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.
Pictorial Membership Directory
We are in the process of preparing our Pictorial Membership Directory for the printers. After working closely with our partners at Trade Media Hui, we are pleased to be able to extend this special advertising opportunity to HLTA members.
CLICK HERE FOR SALES SHEET
The HLTA pictorial membership directory, which lists contact information for every business and organization on our roster, is among the most significant member benefits at HLTA. Purchasing ad space in our latest edition will ensure that your advertisement is seen by hundreds of business owners and operators.
The above rates are available on a first-come, first-first serve basis. If you are interested in this marketing opportunity, please contact any of the below Trade Media Hui representatives:
We understand that the pandemic has led to staffing changes and moves for many of our members, so we want to make sure that we give you multiple avenues to update your information before we go to print.
For technical specifications and other information, click the image above. If you have any questions or concerns, please contact HLTA Director of Membership & Special Projects Ashley Yonamine at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Hawai'i Career Expo is fast approaching!
On Wednesday, August 4th at the Neal Blaisdell Exhibition Hall, businesses of all types and sizes will hosting booths in search of hundreds of new employees. We are proud to be able to partner with the Honolulu Star-Advertiser and Star Events for this event, where we will have a hospitality geared section in the Exhibition Hall. Look for the HLTA banner where many of our members will have their displays.
I would like to extend a shout out to the HLTA members who will be participating in the expo:
A special mahalo to our HLTA Chairperson Cheryl Williams who has prioritized the need to address the various staffing and labor shortages currently being felt around state, and to the Star-Advertiser for making this special emphasis on the hospitality industry at their expo possible.
Mahalo to everyone who joined us at our first in-person HLTA event last night! It was wonderful to see both new and familiar faces alike, and live - rather than virtually. The Summer Soiree event was a wonderful success and we ended up raising thousands of dollars in support of Oahu's Charity Walk.
Delicious food, drinks, music, and fellowship made for an amazing evening for a great cause. Not only did our members get to take a tour of the recently re-opened Halepuna Waikiki by Halekulani, they also enjoyed live musical performances by Rachel Saul and Ethan Capone. Special thanks to Halepuna's General Manager Julie Arigo and O'ahu Chapter Chair Simeon Miranda for organizing, and to our Beverage sponsors Southern Glazer's Wine & Spirits of Hawai'i and Johnson Brothers for helping make the evening one to remember.
194th General Membership Meeting
HLTA's 194th General Membership Meeting is quickly approaching, and we are hard at work pulling together an amazing in-person event for you all. As a friendly reminder, the HLTA room block will expire on August 16th, and you cannot book your rooms until you have registered for GMM. So, please sign up as soon as possible.
Here are a couple other updates for your planning needs:
Thursday, October 14th Golf Outing
For the first time ever, the GMM golf outing will be played in a mini tournament format. Check-in will be held at the Blue Course at Wailea Golf Club and will run from noon through 12:30 p.m. and will be immediately followed by a shotgun start.
Women In Lodging & Tourism
HLTA's WIL Committee will be hosting an event entitled "Mana Wahine". Scheduled for Thursday evening from 5:30 p.m. through 7:00 p.m., the evening will feature University of Hawai'i Maui College Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Dr. Debra A. Nakama and Seabury Hall Head of School Maureen O Madden as speakers to be followed by a reception.
As the vice chancellor of student affairs at University of Hawai'i Maui College, Dr. Debra A. Nakama oversees an array of student services, including curriculum development and teaching. While her focus is on ensuring student success at the college level, she recognizes that education requires a strong foundation and so has also endeavored to affect systemic changes within the K-20 years. Dr. Nakama writes about today’s most pressing educational issues on her blog, www.debranakama.com.
Maureen O Madden is the Head of School at Seabury Hall in Maui. She has served in educational leadership roles for 24 years in public, independent, and international schools, most recently as the Director of the American School of Milan. She has a BA in English Literature and English Education and an MA in School Administration where she holds several certifications. She has served on School Accreditation Teams worldwide, supporting schools towards achieving their goals. Maureen lives on Maui with her husband Bruce, a former educator. She has a daughter on the East Coast who is an English Teacher and a daughter on the West Coast who is a professional chef and four amazing granddaughters. Those four little girls keep her focused upon the best on all aspects of education.
On Tuesday, Maui Mayor Michael Victorino vetoed Bill 60 (2021) which was passed by the Maui County Council and would have placed a moratorium on the issuance of building permits for visitor accommodations in West and South Maui for the next two years.
This was a piece of legislation that we opposed, providing both written and oral testimony, and we commend Mayor Victorino for vetoing the bill. In comments regarding his veto, Maui County Managing Director Sandy Baz referenced the need for robust debate on the issue, stating that while, "the mayor appreciates the council’s intent and sentiment behind Bill 60, he believes it is more important for legislation to be effective and legal than for it to be fast. For these reasons, Mayor Victorino has decided to veto Bill 60."
Baz also echoed some of my sentiments that restricting the number of lodging options for visitors will likely force them to increasingly utilize short-term vacation rentals- both legal and illegal. This is an issue that continues to trouble Maui residents and is something about which we have been especially vocal.
Pictured above from left are Waikiki Resort General Manager Glenn Vergara, Aqua-Aston Hospitality Director of Owner Relations Kyoko Kimura, Lt. Governor Josh Green, Westin Princeville Ocean Resort Villas General Manager Denise Wardlow, HLTA President & CEO Mufi Hannemann, and Napili Kai Beach Resort General Manager Gregg Nelson at HLTA's General Membership Meeting in 2018.
I would like to give a special shoutout to Westin Princeville Ocean Resort Villas General Manager Denise Wardlow who has officially retired after more than 35 years in the hospitality industry. Denise has been a steadfast and active association member who participated in all aspects of HLTA operations from heading our Kauai HLTA Chapter to the Charity Walk to government affairs. She is a founding member of the Women In Lodging & Tourism Committee and supported the next generation of industry leaders as a mentor in our Generational Mentoring Program. There was never a task too difficult for Denise, and she's never failed to follow through on an initiative, especially those that pertained to the Garden Island.
When Denise and I first met, she actually let me know that she had watched me play basketball against her alma mater Roosevelt High School, and I knew then that as hoops fans we would get along famously 😊. Best wishes for a relaxing and happy retirement, Denise! We truly appreciated your continued support of the association over the years.
From left, HLTA Chairperson Cheryl Williams, Westin Princeville Ocean Resort Villas General Manager Denise Wardlow, Marriott Vacations Worldwide Market General Manager Angela Nolan, and HLTA President & CEO Mufi Hannemann at a Pacific Edge Magazine event in 2015 where Denise was recognized.
Civil Beat Editorial Board Interview
The photo above was taken during an interview with Civil Beat's editorial board. Photo courtesy of Civil Beat and Cory Lum.
Last week, I was invited to sit down with Civil Beat's editorial board for a wide-ranging interview that covered everything from the legislative battle of House Bill 862 to the history of our association and even the status of the Honolulu rail project. I was given the opportunity to speak at length about many of the issues facing our industry and our community, and I was extremely pleased to see that they published my remarks nearly in their entirety.
I encourage you to read through the whole piece as it summarizes important talking points that can be utilized by industry stakeholders and professionals as we continue to combat criticism of the industry and work to better educate the public on tourism's importance. As the article is extremely long, I have reproduced two key sections below.
HB 862 Veto
CB: OK, so this is a pretty big hui that you’ve got together here. But still, you guys were unsuccessful in defeating House Bill 862 in changing the funding of the Hawaii Tourism Authority and the hotel tax for the counties. You convinced the governor and he vetoed it, but the House and Senate narrowly overrode the governor.
CB: Tourism, while it was always sort of a pain point before, seems to have emerged from the pandemic as being a real fight now. A lot more people are just fed up with over-tourism. What do you do about that as the tourism industry? Is there anything you can do to help people feel better about tourists?
These are just two critical, industry-related topics that were covered in a nearly two-hour interview. In the time since the article was posted, I've received numerous positive comments from industry members who were pleased to see our side of the story so clearly articulated to the masses. I've long held that we can't run from the tough conversations about tourism and its place in our society and our economy. This is the type of media exposure I feel strongly that we need to seize upon, and I was grateful for the discussion.
On Friday, Governor Ige announced in a press release that, beginning on Thursday, travelers from the Philippines and from South Korea's Incheon International Airport will be allowed to bypass the mandatory 10-day quarantine period after providing a negative COVID-19 screening from a trusted testing partner. Much like the testing protocols for trans-Pacific travelers, visitors coming from either country will be required to take their test within 72 hours of their departure and upload the results into the Safe Travels platform.
This is welcome news as we continue to move closer and closer to normalcy. I have said from the very beginning that a phased approach to restoring travel would be key in that it would allow Hawai'i to pressure test the pre-arrival testing program as well as the vaccine passport concept. Barring any unforeseen setbacks, I am hopeful that Gov. Ige's latest announcement is just the first of many and that we will soon extend the vaccine exemption option to international travelers as well.
I don't always agree with Dave Shapiro, but his editorial in the Sunday edition of the Honolulu Star-Advertiser regarding the Legislature's override of Governor Ige's veto of HB 862 was spot on.
Prominent in his analysis was his apt description of the passage of HB 862 as a "money grab passed off as tourism reform". Shapiro echoed many of our arguments including the initial impetus of the TAT when it was first created was for tourism promotion and management as well as defraying the costs associated with the impacts of tourism. He also took umbrage at the manner in which the bill was passed, noting that it was "hastily cobbled in secret at the end of session without public hearings, proper research or consideration of unintended consequences".
Please take a moment to read the editorial in its entirety. While it will be quite some time before we fully understand the ramifications of HB 862, it is clear that our opposition was shared by many in both the community and amongst elected officials throughout the state.
Polynesian Football Hall of Fame Clinics
Over the weekend, the Polynesian Football Hall of Fame (PFHOF) hosted free clinics for local high school football players at Waiakea and Farrington High Schools. More than 400 local athletes turned out for the event that was facilitated by 40 local coaches and featured former NFL players including Michael Bennett, John Estes, Nate Ilaoa, Rich Miano, Leonard Peters, Jesse Sapolu, Isaac Sopoaga, and Ma'a Tanuvasa.
It was a great day for local athletes, many of whom were denied the opportunity to compete last year due to the pandemic. A big mahalo to the PFHOF, Mayor Mitch Roth and his administration, Waiakea and Farrington High School principals Kelcy Koga and Al Carganilla, Hawaii Speed & Quickness, and our partners at HTA for helping to make these clinics such a success.
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