Gov. Ige's Proclamation - A Clarification
I've been receiving numerous calls and texts about Gov. Ige's press conference this afternoon and want to provide some clarity on what the emergency proclamation means.
Gov. Ige's previous emergency proclamations were all in effect for sixty days, and his previous proclamation was set to expire on Oct. 4. By signing a new proclamation today, he has extended all emergency rules including limits on gathering size and the use of masks indoors. You may recall that Gov. Ige had previously announced that Safe Travels would be shut down when the state reached 70% vaccination. However, due to the Delta variant's spread, he made clear that this would not be the case, and the emergency proclamation would have to be updated.
In regard to our coalition meeting with the Governor and our request for him to make clear that travel to Hawai'i is welcome, he had this to say during today's press conference: “I have been meeting with the visitor industry- we just met this past week. We are looking at and working to identify just like the last time when we had launched Safe Travels on Oct. 15, the industry did let me know that it does take time to ramp up. They would like at least two-weeks notice ahead of any significant change. I am committed to working with them and actively promoting just as we did in August when we asked not to travel to the islands. Certainly I will be working with the industry, airlines, hotels, to deliver the message. We want to ensure that travelers are vaccinated, they are respectful of our requirements here. And certainly we would be looking at messaging that Hawaii continues to welcome visitors at the appropriate time.”
To be clear, Gov. Ige's August 23rd request for nonessential travel to halt was not a mandate and was stated while the State was under emergency proclamation. This extension of emergency rules does not preclude the Governor from announcing that nonessential travel to Hawai'i can resume.
The Star-Advertiser noted this, writing that, "with case and hospitalization numbers trending downward, [Ige] said 'we will be considering getting to a point where we will be inviting visitors back to the islands.'"
I hope this clarification helps. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me, Jared Higashi, or Jared Ellis at any time. They can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.
Meeting with Gov. Ige
Yesterday, members of our statewide coalition—representing the tourism industry, restaurants, retail, air and ground transportation, trade associations, labor unions, community groups, and chambers of commerce—met with Gov. Ige to provide an update as to how his August 23 request for nonessential travel to halt has affected local businesses and our employees.
Mahalo to the following individuals who provided critical updates from key areas and economic sectors of our state: Sherry Menor-McNamara, President & CEO, Chamber of Commerce Hawai'i; Greg Maples, Chairman, Hawai‘i Restaurant Association; Toni Marie Davis, Executive Director, Activities & Attractions Association of Hawai'i; Tina Yamaki, President , Retail Merchants of Hawai'i; Pamela Tumpap, President, Maui Chamber of Commerce; Wendy Laros, President & CEO, Kona-Kohala Chamber of Commerce; Mark Perriello, President & CEO, Kaua'i Chamber of Commerce; Sean Williams, Vice President, State & Local Government Affairs, Airlines for America; and Jack Richards, President & CEO, Pleasant Holidays.
After reviewing the public health metrics that I highlighted in my last message, the coalition related to Gov. Ige just how important preparation will be in restoring travel as the entire travel industry will need sufficient time to market, communicate, and adjust operationally for any influx of visitors. I've expressed similar sentiments in recent comments to Civil Beat and to Hawaii News Now, noting that everything comes down to bookings, and our industry partners will need to prepare sufficiently before the doors to our state are flung open once again.
Senate Tourism Committee Tour
This morning, we led a tour of Waikiki with members of our State Senate Committee on Energy, Economic Development, and Tourism. Senate Tourism Chair Glenn Wakai, Vice Chair Bennette Misalucha, Senator Chris Lee, and a few of their team members joined us on what was an educational outing. We started the morning at the Prince Waikiki with an excellent tour led by General Manager Joshua Hargrove and Prince Resorts Hawai‘i’s President Kisan Jo. We then joined our friends at the Royal Hawaiian Center at their guest services and heritage room, Helumoa Hale. Mahalo to Sam Shenkus, Monte McComber, Aaron Sala, Michael Cox, Nani Hanus, Joy Veeraplin, and Kareen Balogo for their wonderful insights and hospitality. Our third stop was at the 'Alohilani Resort where Hotel Manager Mark Waller, Director of Operations Daniel Texeira, and Associate Director of HR Danae Orellana led the highly informative site tour. We ended the morning with a journey through the Waikiki Special District on one of E Noa Tour’s famous trolleys where WIA President Rick Egged and WBIDA President Jennifer Nakayama highlighted a variety of ongoing projects in the area.
This was a great opportunity to dialogue with the Senate Tourism Committee leadership and update them on everything from health and safety protocols to challenges that we face in the wake of the pandemic and to share new and creative initiatives that have been implemented to attract business from both locals and visitors. Many thanks to our members who stepped up to make this possible.
In October and November, the Sheraton Waikiki will host two vaccination clinics. These events are free and open to the public. While pre-registration is encouraged, walk-ins will also be accepted while vaccine supplies last.
Should you have any questions, please call (808) 691-2222 or visit covid.queens.org/vaccine-clinics.
Mahalo to Kyo-Ya Management Company and its Vice President of Administration, Labor and Community Relations Jason Ito for offering this wonderful opportunity to our industry members and local residents!
Pictured above from left: Rick Egged of the Waikiki Improvement Association, Lisa Tamashiro of Adult Friends for Youth, Prosecutor Steve Alm, Visitor Aloha Society’s Jessica Lani Rich, HLTA’s Mufi Hannemann, Tina Yamaki of the Retail Merchants of Hawai‘i, Bob Finley of the Waikiki Neighborhood Board, and Jerry Dolak of HHVISA.
After holding our latest Visitor Public Safety Conference at the Hawai‘i Convention Center, the partnering stakeholders have worked to develop an action plan to hone in on and address the issues raised by the groups in attendance. Being that several of these required the input and expertise of City Prosecutor Steven Alm, we met with him last week.
One critical topic of discussion was learning more about how Weed & Seed locations are established. This is a program that was started by the U.S. Department of Justice that works to weed out crime and seed neighborhoods with critical programs and services. It has been highly successful in several neighborhoods throughout the City & County of Honolulu, and I witnessed a lot of benefits from it during my public service tenure with the City. In addition to DOJ, it entails a collaborative partnership with City government, HPD, the judicial system, businesses, and numerous community groups and volunteers. Prosecutor Alm has been a vocal proponent of the program throughout his career.
The Prosecutor's Office is currently taking the lead in working with the Blangiardi administration and the City Council on establishing a Weed & Seed site in the Chinatown area and laying the groundwork on also revamping Weed & Seed sites in Waipahu and Ewa Beach. That being said, we look forward to Waikiki also eventually being a prime candidate for a future Weed & Seed initiative.
We also discussed the viability of introducing residency requirements for homeless individuals to access services in Hawai'i. This is a policy that has been implemented in numerous municipalities across the country and ultimately reduces the need for repatriation while ensuring that critical services are being utilized by locals who are experiencing homelessness. We will explore before the next legislative session whether there is support from our State elected official for such a measure here in Hawai'i.
Sunday's edition of the Star-Advertiser had a great article from Waikiki Bureau Chief Allison Schaefers that accurately described the pressure the tourism industry is undergoing as a result of the state’s request for nonessential travel to halt. The article took a wide-ranging look at the issue, speaking or quoting from folks from our industry including Highgate Hawai'i's Kelly Sanders, Hawai'i Convention Center General Manager Teri Orton, Pleasant Hawaiian Holiday’s Jack Richards, VASH’s Jessica Lani Rich and myself, as well as Maui Mayor Mike Victorino and individuals who have had major challenges with the State’s current travel policy.
The article can be read in its entirety here.
Yesterday, the federal government indicated that it will be working to reestablish international travel for vaccinated travelers in the coming months. The announcement noted a November 1 target date and the fact that pre-arrival testing within 72 hours of departure will most likely be required.
While there are still countless details that have to be finalized, this was a welcome announcement that bodes well for a worldwide travel industry that has been depressed for more than a year. International travelers to our state has always a major component and contributor to our travel and tourism industry.
Wall Street Journal
In the time since Governor Ige's request for nonessential travel to halt, there has been media coverage of the announcement and the compounding effects that it has had on the local tourism industry and the economy in its entirety. In addition to all of the local media outlets, I've also been contacted by several national publications including The Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal which ran its article today. The WSJ reporter Allison Pohle did a commendable job of stating our predicament. The article can be found here in its entirety for your reading.
Domino's Hawai'i Promotion
I am pleased to announce that Domino's Hawai'i has offered to run a special promotion in support of O'ahu's Visitor Industry Charity Walk. Beginning on Monday, September 20th and running through the 26th, Domino's will donate a portion of all pizza sales to help us close out our Charity Walk campaign.
This is an amazing opportunity to boost our overall fundraising efforts, and I would like to extend a special mahalo to HLTA Board Member Mike Rompel for his generous offer. Mike has been an amazing addition to our board and has actively found ways to support HLTA efforts and initiatives from the moment he joined.
Please share the poster above far and wide and consider buying Domino's pizza for yourself and your families for the next week. For our lodging members, we ask that you please share this with your guests and let them know that their cheesy satisfaction is helping our local nonprofit community here on O'ahu.
Today marked the official kick-off for our Hotels for Healthcare Heroes initiative that provides free hotel rooms for doctors, nurses, and other critical staff who are working tirelessly to stem the tide of the COVID-19 pandemic. Thanks to the generosity of our lodging partners, more than 100 of these heroes have checked in for two-night staycations around the state.
This is just the first weekend and the response has already been awesome. Mahalo to our partner the Healthcare Association of Hawai‘i and to all of the hotels, businesses, and others who have contributed to launching us successfully. If your hotel or resort has not yet signed up but are interested in providing rooms, please email H4HH@hawaiilodging.org to do so as our goal is to offer this special act of aloha to the last weekend of October.
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.
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