The Hawaii Lodging and Tourism Association hosted a tourism day at the state capitol on Friday.
The HLTA said they’ve seen a slight dip and lawmakers assured they are doing everything they can so coronavirus fears don’t take a toll on Hawaii’s economy.
“There are only three countries left in the world that are getting direct flights from China—it’s Korea, Japan, and Taiwan,” said Sen. Glenn Wakai (D) Energy, Economic Development, and Tourism chair. “Every other country no longer accepts flights from China but those three markets are key tourism markets.”
He said it’s only a matter of time before a COVID-19 case arrives in Hawaii, but he said how the state responds will be of utmost importance.
“Safety is the No. 1 issue on any traveler’s mind. It doesn’t matter how beautiful, how great the hospitality is, or the aloha spirit is here, if we get the coronavirus and we’re seen as a dangerous and unhealthy place, people are not going to be coming here,” Sen. Wakai said.
Although tourism officials said they’ve seen a very slight dip in numbers, they assured that employees and visitors are being educated daily.
“We are re-doubling our efforts to make sure it’s clean and healthy environments,” said Mufi Hannemann, HLTA president, and CEO. “More sanitizers are being put out each day, we are educating visitors on what they need to do, and our employees so far even though there has been a little bit of a dip, it hasn’t been of anything of great concern because there is no evidence of coronavirus here in Hawaii.”
He noted Hawaii saw about 100,000 visitors from China a year, and Hawaii welcomes 1.5 million Japanese visitors a year. Hawaii halted all direct flights from China last month.
“We want to assure the public we’re following these results very closely in terms of the weekly inventory, we’re talking with our hotels and resorts, we don’t see a downward trend by any means,” he said.
He said there could be impacts anywhere in the world if the virus isn’t dealt with effectively.
Sen. Wakai said the first level of protection is screening at the airports but even that it isn’t full proof.
“I think we should be very cautious and make sure we have all the safeguards in place,” he said.
“Japan is the second most infected country with coronavirus, that is an important tourism market for us heaven forbid that market chooses not to fly or we get one of their Japanese, Korean or Taiwanese visitors here that affects us, that is going to spell disaster for us if we mishandle and fumble on this coronavirus,” Sen. Wakai added.
He said the impacts could have a huge ripple effect on Hawaii’s economy.
“I mean we could just shut things down and say no Japanese tourists here to safeguard all of us but what’s that going to mean for the local economy?” he asked. “We do want them to still come but only when you’re healthy.”
He said one in every four people in Hawaii works in the tourism industry and many residents would be impacted if tourism takes a hit.
“We have safeguards there but they’re not bulletproof we’re going to get someone here and we just have to respond properly,” Sen. Wakai said.
Hannemann said they’ve been working closely with state officials.
“Chris Tatum of the Hawaii Tourism Authority and Governor Ige went to Japan recently, and when they got back we had some discussions with Chris and there’s nothing to suggest that they are alarmed by the situation,” Hannemann said.
“I think the best thing we can do is market to Japan keep welcoming them here and do our part to ensure visitors and residents that they not be concerned,” he said.
“I think a lot of it is perception, but because we’re doing such a great job at stepping up to the plate and working with our state government officials, the governor, Lt. Governor and the Department of Health, we’re putting it out there that we got our act together here,” Hannemann said.