HONOLULU (KHON2) — It has been two weeks since Gov. David Ige asked visitors to stay away from Hawaii as the state deals with a surge in COVID-19 cases and hospitals are at or over-capacity.
The state was averaging about 27,000 arrivals over the Labor Day weekend, and arrivals have dropped to about 20,000 daily since then.
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Hotel occupancy has dropped, and many visitors have canceled their vacations.
“We’ve seen a significant slowdown in tourism, it’s typically slow this time of the year anyway but it’s a lot slower than usual, I think, because of the governor’s warning about people coming to Hawaii,” explained Jon Jepson, co-owner of Makani Catamaran. “We’ve seen a lot of cancellations from reservations we had booked and not just canceling our tour but they’re canceling their entire trip to Hawaii.”
Tour operators were devastated through the coronavirus pandemic, and many had to cut staff and operations. Now, a promising bright summer season is taking a gloomy turn into the fall thanks to the highly contagious delta variant.
“That’s the ultimate question, how do you plan for something you can’t plan for?” said Jepson.
For now, he said they will continue operations as usual.
The impact is being felt at hotels too.
Maui saw an economic bump this summer but is now seeing cancellations too.
“I had a meeting with the hoteliers on Maui this morning and, as of date, 51,000 room nights have been canceled, $21.4 million loss in revenue and that’s Maui County only,” explained Maui County Mayor Michael Victorino during a virtual press conference on Thursday, Sept. 9.
Experts are hopeful the state will rebound to summer levels by the holidays but many believe the only way Hawaii can stay safe and open is if a pre-travel test or post-travel test is re-implemented.
“I think that we need to go back, even if you have the vaccine card, you need to take the COVID test. It worked, we have the system in place, you’re not reinventing the wheel, just go back to what worked and that’s one way to lower cases,” explained Jerry Agrusa, Shidler College of Business professor.
“The great thing about the island is once we can capture it, we can get the virus under control, there’s nobody coming in without us knowing about it. Nobody drives through Hawaii, and then we can be the safest place again, and then we could go back to being the premium destination and then people will pay,” he continued.
He said there is a nationwide labor crisis, and he suggests businesses find a way to hold on to their employees before the next tourism surge.
“I’d hold on to them, my workers, because there’s not a whole line of people behind them,” he explained.
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“It’s so difficult to get employees and now you have this new requirement, a mandate where you have to check, that’s a job for hotels, there’s a job for all the restaurants, food establishments, for the workout facilities, all these things,” he continued.