Maui Booster Rule Update
Great news - Maui Mayor Michael Victorino intends to lift his booster requirement for all Maui businesses beginning on Monday, February 7. Additionally, he will also withdraw his request that Gov. Ige require incoming travelers to be boosted to qualify for the Safe Travels exception. This is wonderful as it comes on the heels of our meetings with Lt. Gov. Green and General Hara where we requested that Governor Ige issue guidance rather than a new mandate. We followed these meetings up with memos to each of the county mayors making clear our position and requesting their consideration. Mayor Victorino's decision brings Maui County in line with what we are working toward on a statewide level as we anticipate a decision from Gov. Ige on the matter soon.
This is all happening as the Omicron surge continues to level off and health metrics trend in the right direction. After seeing an all-time daily high in new cases last month, our statewide community clearly buckled down, did the right things, and let the Omicron variant run its course. Although these high case counts had plagued us for several weeks, it does seem that the worst of it is behind us. As I've noted in the past, this does not mean it is time to become careless; we must continue to do all we can to keep ourselves, our families, and our communities safe and healthy.
O'ahu Chapter Event
The O'ahu Chapter of the Hawai'i Lodging & Tourism Association kickstarted 2022 by taking to the skies. The active committee, now chaired by ‘Alohilani’s General Manager Matt Grauso, propelled into the new year with a board mixer at Blue Hawaiian Helicopters. The evening started off with helicopter tours out of their Honolulu base yard and ended with networking at their outdoor lounge where HLTA members enjoyed a sushi bar, cocktails, and fellowship. It was great to connect with so many of our O'ahu Chapter members including past Chapter Chair Simeon Miranda who was in attendance.
A huge shout out to newly-installed HLTA board member and Blue Hawaiian president Quentin Koch for providing an unforgettable and fun-filled experience. Mahalo also to HLTA O'ahu Chapter Chair Matt Grauso for organizing the pau hana and Justin Yoshino of Market Advantage for providing the signature cocktails.
There is a lot in store for the O'ahu Chapter Committee in 2022, and I look forward to seeing where they go from here.
To book your own Blue Hawaiian Excursion visit: www.bluehawaiian.com.
As you may recall, in recent meetings with Governor Ige's administration to discuss the possible addition of a booster requirement to the Safe Travels program, I have reiterated time and again that the tourism industry is doing an outstanding job of getting its people both vaccinated and boosted. In order to underscore this, I have been providing Gov. Ige with the results from our recent survey which focuses on vaccination and booster rates among HLTA member businesses.
The survey is still open, and we can always use more data. Please take a moment to fill it out. If you do, please note that there is an option to keep your business name confidential. If you do not indicate that you'd like to remain anonymous, we will share that info with the Governor.
Should you have any questions, please feel free to call us at any time.
Meeting with Lt. Gov. Green & General Hara
We have been holding a series of meetings with State officials and members of Governor Ige's administration to discuss the possibility of a booster shot requirement to the Safe Travels program. Today, members of the HLTA Board and the Hawai'i Tourism, Business, & Community Coalition met with Lt. Governor Josh Green and Major General Kenneth Hara as well as HTA President & CEO John De Fries and HVCB President John Monahan to express our concerns regarding the booster requirement and reaffirm our commitment to the health of our guests, staff, and the greater community.
It was an extremely productive meeting during which we conveyed our desire to move forward with supporting recommendations to emphasize public health guidance over further mandates. It is clear that we must stay the course and continue our efforts to get our people vaccinated and boosted while maintaining the strictest of health and safety standards at our places of business. Because, at the end of the day, Governor Ige will ultimately be making the final decision on this matter.
Everything is currently trending in our favor on this issue; case counts are going down, hospitalizations are decreasing, and our entire community is beginning to understand that we will have to learn to live with COVID-19 as we can begin to resume our lives. Continuing to rebuild the local tourism economy is the first step to restoring both international travel and large events, two significant sectors of our industry that have not yet begun the recovery process.
You may have seen over the weekend that I sent out a short survey regarding HLTA members' vaccination and booster rates. The initial feedback was outstanding but the more data that we can get, the better we can illustrate to the State that our industry is leading the way in terms of vaccinating our people. If you have not yet filled out the survey, you can find it at this link. It will take just a few moments of your time, and you may opt to keep your business name confidential.
Hawai'i Hotel & Restaurant Show
Speaking of the importance of large, structured events, The Hawai'i Hotel & Restaurant Show is set to return to the Hawai'i Convention Center on March 30 and 31. This will be our second annual show, and we are most looking forward to this signature event.
In today's edition of the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, there is a full-page ad reminding prospective vendors that there is still time to secure a booth for this year's show. If you are considering doing so, please contact either Gerald Shintaku at firstname.lastname@example.org or Jared Higashi at email@example.com.
We are currently working hard with our partners at the Star-Advertiser and the Hawai'i Restaurant Association to plan and host a knockout trade show, and I hope that we will see you there.
Opening Day at the Legislature
Yesterday, the Hawai'i State Legislature held its annual opening ceremonies to kick off the 2022 Legislative Session. Despite being relegated to a hybrid format with an empty gallery, the leaders of both chambers spoke of their optimism and their respective legislative priorities over the course of the next several months which include everything from economic recovery to homelessness, mental health, and the connection between tourism and conservation. It is clear that they have an ambitious agenda, and we will have to be on our toes for both measures that we support and those that we oppose.
In his remarks before the Senate, our friend Senator Kurt Fevella stated plainly what we all know to be true: Hawai'i's economic recovery and health will continue to rely upon the hospitality industry. He made clear that getting Hawai'i's back to steady, productive work is a critical priority, and no industry can do that as quickly as the tourism industry. In the current political and community climate, where the target on our backs seems to grow daily, it was refreshing to hear an elected official reiterate the importance of tourism.
On the HLTA front, we have finalized our HLTA Government Affairs Position Statement for 2022. This document, which you can read in its entirety at the link above, details our legislative positions and priorities and will be distributed to each legislator in the coming days. Should you have any questions about the document or any of our positions, please feel free to contact my Vice President of Government & Community Affairs Jared Higashi via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Bill 41 Testimony
Today, the Honolulu City Council's Committee on Zoning & Planning held a special committee hearing on Bill 41 (2021) and a proposed committee draft. These measures would set new regulations for short-term rental units with the original measure setting the threshold for the minimum length of stay at 180 days, the committee discussion resulted in a 90-day minimum which we had no issue with in our supportive testimony.
There were more than 200 submissions of written testimony and dozens of oral testifiers who came out both for and against this measure. I submitted testimony on behalf of HLTA, which can be read here, in strong support of both Bill 41 and the CD1 and Jared Higashi presented oral testimony. It is our position that Bill 41 is the next best step in reining in the proliferation of illegal short-term units around O'ahu, and this will have a significant impact on that effort.
The CD1 was ultimately reported out by the committee with slight amendments. Councilmembers Elefante, Kia‘āina, and Say voted aye while Councilmember Cordero voted with reservations. The measure will now go to the Full Council for second reading. In the meantime we will continue our dialogue with the councilmembers since the ball is in their court...
Free COVID Test Kits
U.S. Senator Brian Schatz alerted me to a free, at-home testing opportunity that anybody can take advantage of. Residential households in the U.S. can order one set of free test kits from USPS.com. There is a limit of one order per household, but each order contains four individual tests. The test kits will begin shipping in late January.
This is a great opportunity as we continue to feel the effects of the Omicron variant which has caused new cases in Hawai'i to soar in recent weeks. Having a rapid test on hand would allow you to quickly rule out the possibility of infection if you are concerned, have possibly been exposed, or just are quite feeling well.
To place an order, please click this link.
On Thursday, the Honolulu City Council will hold a special meeting of the Zoning & Planning Committee to hear Bill 41 (2021). As you may recall, this measure proposes new rules to regulate regulate short-term rental units in the City & County of Honolulu. These new changes were proposed by the Department of Planning & Permitting, and HLTA has strongly supported them through the hearing process at the Honolulu Planning Commission and before the Full Council.
We are all aware of the negative impacts that the illegal short-term rental market has on communities. From taxing municipal utilities and overwhelming parking to driving local families out of neighborhoods and severely curtailing the inventory of affordable rental units, STRs on the whole must be regulated and those operating illegally must be penalized.
You can submit written testimony and sign up to testify via video link here. You may also read our most recent testimony in support of this measure at the following link.
If you have any questions or concerns about the hearing, the bill, or how to testify, please feel free to contact us at any time.
On December 22, Maui Mayor Michael Victorino, to his credit, announced his veto of Maui County Council Bill 148 which would have established a two-year moratorium on the issuance of building permits for transient accommodations on Maui. This was a measure that we had opposed before the Council, and I had previously urged Mayor Victorino to wield his veto powers.
Tomorrow, the Council will meet for its first Full Council meeting of the new year where they are slated to take a vote to override the veto. Since Mayor Victorino's announcement, we have been working hard to secure the necessary votes to sustain his veto. These efforts culminated in the issuance of a letter that we helped to craft along with MHLA which was sent to each of the Maui County councilmembers yesterday. Co-signed by representatives from hospitality, business, labor, and trade organizations, the letter clearly articulates our position on Bill 148 and urges the Council to sustain.
After the letter began to circulate, additional organizations and individuals reached out to me to express their support and ask to sign on. Sensing that the momentum was on the upswing, I reproduced the letter with the additional signatories and sent it to each of the Maui County councilmembers earlier this afternoon. You can read the letter and view the signatories here.
This latest initiative underscores the strength that lies in collaboration and partnership—something that HLTA has embraced through our diverse coalitions across the state and we have been able to demonstrate some success with this collaborative strategy. While we face an uphill battle to sustain the mayor's veto, we need to continue to send a message to lawmakers that we are united in advocating for a strong, resilient, and sustainable economy.
Prince Resorts Hawaii has announced the promotion of longtime hospitality executive Shigeki Yamane who will now serve as the company's president. The move comes after the departure of Kisan Jo who has assumed the role of executive vice president of retail markets and operations at Central Pacific Bank. Previously serving as Prince Resort Hawaii's vice president of planning, Yamane brings a wealth of hospitality and executive experience to the position having worked in Japan, Canada, and Singapore.
The Honolulu Star-Advertiser ran a nice article in yesterday's paper announcing the move and lauding the company for the way they have supported their team members throughout the pandemic. If you have a minute, you can read it here.
We have always enjoyed a great working relationship with our friends at Prince Resorts, and I look forward to continuing this under their new leadership. I am excited to see where Prince Resorts goes from here.
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.
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