By: Peter Van Buren
Hawaii is the only state in the nation with restrictions still in place for vaccinated people. Why?
Who is making the cascading series of bad decisions about tourism and why are they determined to damage the Number 2 industry in Hawaii? With over a year’s pause to review things like sustainability and overuse why are we only now having such conversations even as we drift from problem to problem?
Tourism is a part of our islands. It will not ever go away entirely and should not go away if we wish for people to have jobs. Effectively managed tourism should create little pollution and lots of revenue alongside a lot of jobs, from restaurant servers to corporate executives. Let us look at how that has worked out in the hands of incompetent leadership.
-Hawaii is the only state still with COVID entrance requirements. Their ever-changing nature creates unnecessary confusion in the marketplace. It is easier for visitors to go somewhere else. The crisis has passed yet Hawaii’s government alone clings to its emergency powers.
-Once in Hawaii, the visitor is subject to the last remaining set of comprehensive restrictions, also ever-changing. Rules on masks and gatherings fall into 42 different categories and run dozens and dozens of pages. There are separate rules for botanical gardens and bowling alleys. No one can follow them all, and so visitors are assaulted with constant and often conflicting pleas to cooperate. Even the mayor of Honolulu admits they are unenforceable even as he tries to enforce them.
-The ever-changing rules on how many people may gather indoors/outdoors are a death sentence to big-money tourism such as weddings, Asian group tours, and conventions. These need to be planned months or even years in advance, and can in one decision brings hundreds of visitors in. What planner is ready to trust Hawaii to have the same rules in place a year from now (Delta variant!) as today? One promoter said “Tier 5 is not a realistic solution to reopen the large scale event industry in the state of Hawaii.”
-The latest rules, which appear to require restaurants to verify vaccination status before seating guests, are so ridiculous major restaurants are simply refusing to comply. They protest turning their hosts into “cops” and scaring away customers. Never mind the ridiculousness of demanding a minimum wage server check to see if a COVID test was the proper molecular type before reading the day’s specials. Coupled with the labor shortage which makes reservations hard to get, why would a visitor want to try a night out?
-Why would a visitor want to try a night out when bars are still required to stop serving at midnight (is COVID more active after dark?!?) Super fun beach vacation, everybody.
-In their arrogance, leaders of the state legislature said the summer surge in tourists shows Hawaii no longer needs to be marketed as a tourist destination. They then fundamentally changed the Hawaii Tourism Authority’s funding and left its future uncertain. While Hawaii may be the only product in history which requires no advertising, competitor New York City launched a $30 million “NYC Reawakens” tourism campaign. Florida has numerous advertising campaigns underway, including a $2 million one focused on Orlando alone.
-As COVID restrictions saw tourism disappear, car rental companies sold off their inventory such that visitors cannot find a car, and the news is running features on people renting U-Hauls to visit the North Shore. And what happens when a rental car company fails to renew a car registration? The HPD tickets the tourist who rented it so they can tell their friends at home how to expect to be treated.
-Uber and Lyft sent their prices skyrocketing. Local people stepped up and started renting out their own vehicles to solve the shortage. The state’s move. Tax the new business to death, same as Airbnb, in hopes of protecting the old brick and mortar firms. If that play seems familiar, it was a version of the one used to sink the SuperFerry and push intra-island travel money into the airlines’ hands. Or the plan which quickly ended Lime’s electric scooters, which remain popular as a traffic solution across the country, just somehow not in Hawaii.
-How to get to your hotel from the airport? Well, the HART will be completed in approximately… never. The Bus does not allow luggage. So as in most third world airports the tired traveler starts his journey being overcharged for a taxi.
-Hawaii has never been a budget destination, but taxes and costs for visitors keep climbing, and will reach a point where they consider other options. For visitors settling into a traditional hotel room, there is a 10.25% Occupancy/Transient Accommodation Tax, followed by the 4.712% State Tax. Most places now stack on a “resort fee” of $35-50, plus usurious parking fees of $30-40 a night. The state’s move post-COVID? Grab more of the existing hotel tax for itself, and allow the counties to add on their own 3% tax. The final price for a room can easily double for guests.
-Meanwhile, because of COVID and at those prices, most hotels will not change the towels or bed sheets during a stay. And wait until visitors find out must-see Hanauma Bay is now $25 a person plus $10 parking if they can even pry a reservation away from the big tour companies. Diamond Head is headed the same way.
-The operations manager for Roberts Hawaii, the agency hired to handle Safe Travels screening, summed up Hawaii’s image today, saying “People gonna vent, aggravated, not prepared, in shock after spending so much money. People got to accept these changes, it is challenge, it is a challenge to come to Hawaii.”
Now we are seeing a short-term rush of visitors due to pent up demand. What happens next? Nobody knows when it will all become just too much and visitors will go elsewhere, but Hawaii seems determined to push the boundaries. Hawaii County Mayor Mitch Roth worries. “We’re going to add another tax to our tourists and actually that’s a gamble whether the tourists are going to come back.”