On Friday morning, Highgate Hotels Senior Vice President of Operations Kelly Sanders and I participated in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser's Spotlight Hawaii series to discuss a variety of topics surrounding the resurgence of travel to the islands including projections for the remainder of the summer season, the current profile of travelers, and recent crime in Waikiki. As expected, a portion of the conversation also touched on the renewed calls for better management of Hawai'i's tourism industry.
“Long before the pandemic, we recognized that it was important to manage tourism better and not put all our eggs in the basket of marketing tourism,” Hannemann said.
“….One lesson that we’ve learned from this pandemic is how totally dependent everyone is on tourism. Like it, loathe it, what have you, but this is the engine that drives our economy. We can continue to pursue economic diversification initiatives and the like, but at the end of the day, especially now, it’ll come back to tourism.”
-HLTA President & CEO Mufi Hannemann, Honolulu Star-Advertiser Spotlight Hawai'i
Kelly, in particular, discussed the significant role that HTA will play in the ongoing recovery of the local tourism industry and the management of tourism moving forward while we both discussed the threats currently facing the State's tourism agency- namely House Bill 862 which was passed during the recent Legislative Session.
Many of our concerns with HB 862 were reiterated in a recent deep dive by the Star-Advertiser's editorial staff who recently delved into some of the more problematic measures passed by the Legislature this year. Key among these were the disruption of HTA's funding and operations at an inopportune time, as well as the decision to strip the counties of their transient accommodations tax (TAT) allocations and replacing it with the option of raising the TAT by an additional 3%.
It was perhaps the publication's most visible call for a veto of HB 862 as we near June 21st the deadline by which Governor Ige must release his intent to veto list.
The news broke in the Star-Advertiser today that the Hawai'i Convention Center lost one of its biggest contracts for the year when the American Association of Orthodontists, which would have brought 17,000 attendees to Honolulu, moved its planned conference to Miami due to the lack of clarity in State and county rules for meetings and conventions.
It is imperative that our government leaders issue clear rules and requirements for this sector of the industry as soon as possible because entities like the convention center, hotels and resorts, and other hosts need adequate time to sell their venue space and coordinate event logistics. This is an issue that we've run into firsthand at HLTA as we navigate the planning process for the Hawai'i Hotel & Restaurant Show.
The Star-Advertiser also ran an article discussing the positive results the film industry is currently experiencing in the islands. I have long said that film and sports initiatives are two specific areas that Hawai'i should always be promoting due to its synergistic relationship with tourism and it’s proven ability to stimulate the economy.
You may recall that the "Temptation Island" reality show was filmed in a resort bubble at the Andaz Maui at Wailea resort under the leadership of Hyatt executive Mike Jokovich to great success. The series will return to the islands this fall to film its next season. Kudos to Maui Mayor Mike Victorino, the State Film Office, and Maui County Film Office Commissioner Tracy Bennett who worked with the ILWU and the IATSE to lead the charge on this front. Our future is bright if we can continue to tap into these industries moving forward.
Yesterday, HLTA and ClimbHI awarded $1,000 scholarships to two outstanding educators to gain experience in and understanding of our industry. This has been a long standing objective of mine to assist hospitality educators and the teachers who were selected in the first year of this scholarship are exemplary in every sense of the word.
Fern White is a West Hawai'i District Resource Teacher for Career & Technical Education programs on Hawai'i Island. She is a National Board Certified English Language Arts Teacher who has taught guidance, health, physics, computer science, and engineering design. Fern noted in her scholarship application that she intends to learn more about the image of hospitality in Hawai'i and how cultural values are embedded in the industry.
Alyssa Alcos is a teacher at Wai'anae High School where she also advises the school's DECA Club which aims to prepare emerging leaders and entrepreneurs in the areas of marketing, finance, hospitality, and management. For the past two years, Alyssa has served on the board of the Hawai'i Association of Career & Technical Education, an organization that promotes career readiness among the different educational pathways. In her application, Alyssa stated that "if hospitality is about having the love to serve, then hospitality in Hawai'i has got to be about sharing the love of our culture through service. I hope I can continue to perpetuate that in my future curricula."
Mahalo to ClimbHI President & Executive Director Julie Morikawa for her leadership throughout this process. If our first two scholarship recipients are any indication of what is to come regarding hospitality education around our state, the future is clearly bright for both teachers and students.
During the Zoom meeting where the scholarships were presented, Julie shared the above video which was filmed during the early days of the pandemic. ClimbHI worked with the students to provide them background and context as it pertains to the hospitality industry and then created this video for them to share their mana'o. To say that I was impressed by these youth would be an understatement.
Please take a moment to watch the video as it clearly illustrates the power that lies in providing education and insight to our community's future leaders.
You may recall that the Maui County Council is currently considering two measures that would issue moratorium on building permits for hotels for the next two years. One would limit the ban to West and South Maui while the other would cover the entire county.
I wanted to bring to your attention an article from The Maui News that detailed opposition raised by TZ Economic's Paul Brewbaker. The former chief economist for Bank of Hawaii noted especially that the reasoning behind these proposed measures is faulty in that they cite overtourism and growth in the lodging industry. He correctly pointed out that, in the past 30 years, the total room count on Maui has only grown by 3,000 rooms while hotel rooms have actually decreased on Moloka'i. The fastest growing segment of the lodging inventory is in vacation rental units. Brewbaker further echoed the comments in our testimony which highlighted the unseemly timing of these proposals which come just as the lodging industry is getting back on its feet.
Kudos to Paul for his willingness to be frank in his analyses. We need more like him to help us deter further questionable attacks on the lodging industry and tourism as a whole.
For more than the past year, Hawai'i has consistently proven itself to be among the healthiest places to which tourists could travel. Due to a combination of our relatively low incidence of COVID-19 cases and the success of the Safe Travels program, prospective travelers could confidently book their trips here with the peace of mind that they were highly unlikely to be exposed to the virus. Billing ourselves as one of the healthiest destinations in the world piggybacked well with our pre-COVID-19 status as an extremely safe destination to visit.
"Waikiki crime surge risks derailing tourism recovery," Honolulu Star-Advertiser, June 6, 2021
As we grow nearer to a full restoration of the local travel industry, it is critical that we do what is necessary to maintain our reputation as one of the safest tourism destinations in the world. Recent high-profile crimes in the Waikiki area, including two stabbings in a single night, have justly renewed the community's focus on this issue. The Honolulu Star-Advertiser's Sunday edition covered the topic in great detail and quoted key stakeholders including the Honolulu Police Department, Honolulu City Council Chair Tommy Waters, Honolulu Prosecutor Steven Alm, Visitor Aloha Society of Hawai'i President & CEO Jessica Lani Rich, tourism safety expert Peter Tarlow, and myself.
Being that we all shared similar comments and sentiments regarding the recent surge in crime, HLTA will be hosting a mini Visitor Public Safety Conference in two weeks' time to bring together policy makers, law enforcement, business owners, and community stakeholders to discuss these issues and develop action items to address them.
We have had immense success with past iterations of this event, making a measurable difference on issues including homelessness, the late night cabarets in Waikiki, and the need for better lighting and more security cameras throughout the Waikiki district. I am confident that by bringing all of these voices and their decades of experience to the table will yield similar results.
21st Annual Scholarship Golf Tournament
We are excited to announce that we have officially opened registration for HLTA's 21st Annual Scholarship Golf Tournament!
Please join us on August 12 at Pearl Country Club. This is one of our signature events that will generate funds to support the various scholarships that our association awards each year. We have a number of sponsorship options for this year's event:
Alaka'i - $3,000.00
Includes: 1 Team (3 players); 1 Golf Cart with Signage (sponsor provides give away, must be pre-approved by HLTA Golf Committee); 2 hole-sponsorship tee signs; VIP Parking; Sponsor logo in collateral; Executive Swag Bag Gift.
Kōkua - $2,500.00
Includes: 1 Team (3 players); 1 sponsored tent (sponsor provides tent and give away, must be preapproved by HLTA Golf Committee); 2 hole-sponsorship tee signs; Sponsor logo in collateral.
SINGLE TEAM - $1,500.00
Includes: 1 Team (3 players)
TEE SPONSORSHIP - $500.00
Includes: 1 hole-sponsorship tee sign
HOLE #5: PAR 5 (TEAM) - $50
Tee off from a special tee box on the par 5.
To register for this event, please either click the image above or this link. For any questions regarding sponsorship or other involvement opportunities like prize donations and volunteering, please contact HLTA Director of Membership & Special Projects Ashley Yonamine.
I hope to see you there!
This afternoon, Gov. Ige announced several coming changes to local travel restrictions.
The local tourism industry is beginning to resemble a sense of pre-pandemic levels of business, and with it we are starting to witness a growing anti-tourism sentiment amongst a number of Hawai'i residents. The past year of depressed arrival numbers was detrimental to our economy but gave the islands a break from many of the perceived negatives that are associated with tourism, and these are becoming amplified as we experience quick growth in the number of visitors that are returning to the state.
The Honolulu Star-Advertiser recently reported on a survey by the University of Hawai‘i Public Policy Center that found that 52% of respondents expressed a desire to limit the number of visitors to the islands while 78% supported the concept of impact fees being charged at high-traffic areas such as state parks. This is just the latest media reporting on the sliding resident sentiment regarding tourism, and it would be remiss for us to ignore this.
If we are to change this mindset and soften the overall opposition to the tourism industry, it is important that we continue to look at ways in which we can collaborate with our neighbors. One proven concept of which our association has been an ardent proponent is the utilization of user impact fees. Take the Hanauma Bay model for example; the revenues generated through impact and parking fees support the maintenance of the park while the daily limit on park users will help to keep the place healthy for generations to come.
Another area where we have worked closely with members of the community is on the issue of illegal short-term vacation rentals. As you are well aware, HLTA has taken the clear position that STRs should be relegated to resort-zoned areas and pay the appropriate taxes. However, illegally operating units have spread through our communities and bring with them a host of negative effects that impact our neighborhoods.
Coming together with the general public to solve shared issues like these is the best means of combatting what seems to be a growing negative perception of tourism.
Another recent survey by SMS Research & Marketing Service Inc. polled residents on their vaccination status and opinions of vaccination as a whole. Out of more than 400 respondents, nearly 70% reported being fully vaccinated. The survey also found that 12% of respondents have no intention of being vaccinated at any time for reasons including a lack of trust in vaccines and religious or political objections. Overall, these results are extremely positive and show that we are moving at a healthy clip toward herd immunity. The sooner that an acceptable number of residents get vaccinated, the sooner that this will become feasible, and we must continue to push for this to take place. Those of us who work or associate with the hospitality industry need to lead by example by making sure that we and our families are vaccinated. As I noted in the Star-Advertiser article, all of the available data indicates that vaccination "greatly lessens the likelihood of contracting the virus and transmitting as well".
Right now, through our strong vaccination levels and the Safe Travels program, Hawai'i can bill itself as being among the healthiest places in the world to travel. As more and more destinations succeed in opening their doors to tourists, the competition for prospective travelers' business will continue to increase. As a state, we must stay the course and continue to get vaccinated in large numbers for the sake of our community health and the health of our economy.
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 email@example.com.
*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.
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.
On Wednesday, we hosted our 17th Annual Citizen-Scholar Awards ceremony via Zoom to recognize and honor 41 outstanding seniors from public schools around the state. These students truly epitomize the term "student-leader" in that they have excelled in the classroom and in their communities.
Each of the above students received a $1,000 scholarship. After carefully reviewing the applicants, we also selected the top Scholar for each county, each of whom received an additional $2,500.
Citizen-Scholar County Winners
Braelyn I. Cayaban
Waimea High School
Jessica Li Chang
‘Aiea High School
Aleth S. Sabugo
King Kekaulike High School
University of Hawai‘i Maui College
Riley T. Blaber
Kealakehe High School
Finally, we picked the top male and female student from this year's class and awarded them an additional $5,000 scholarship. These students were absolutely excellent in everything that they have done and will undoubtedly excel in whatever they choose to pursue in the future.
Citizen-Scholar Top Male & Female
Moloka'i High School's Mallory Go, left, was selected as the top female Scholar in the Citizen-Scholar Class of 2021. She will attend Brown University in the fall. Owali Moea'i, hailing from Hana High & Elementary School, is this year's top male Scholar, and he will be attending Brigham-Young University - Hawai'i.
Mahalo to both the Honolulu Star-Advertiser and the State Department of Education who help to make this important HLTA initiative a success. My warmest thanks also to our sponsors- without the generosity of the following organizations, we would not be able to reward and recognize this class of student-leaders:
In June, the #HiGotVaccinated campaign will launch, bringing together local government, community partners, and a wide variety of small businesses to encourage locals to get vaccinated in the month of June. At the time of writing this, just over half of Hawai'i residents are fully vaccinated and, as you know, we are working tirelessly to push this number closer to 70% which would bring our community closer to herd immunity.
As such, the #HiGotVaccinated campaign is looking for partners who are willing to donate in support of this cause. There are currently two different ways that you may contribute:
Finally, the #HiGotVaccinated website is up and will soon feature a directory of promotional offers and prizes. Please keep an eye out for updates at higotvaccinated.com.
Stay in the know
Keep up with HLTA through our blog! Let us know what you think in the comment box below each post.