Hawaii’s visitor industry is under siege as COVID-19[female[feminine Lockdowns and lower visitor demand have slowed tourism — the state’s biggest contributor to growth — to a trickle.
On Tuesday, the fifth day of a mandatory quarantine for transpacific passengers, only 121 of the 681 passengers were visitors. Since the order took effect Thursday, only 887 visitors have entered the state. Last year at this time, that number would have been more like 150,000.
While some visitors were here before quarantine, more and more are leaving every day. Waikiki, the epicenter of the state’s tourist economy, has turned into a ghost town from both the passenger quarantine and Gov. David Ige’s previous work-from-home order.
More than 100 hotels statewide have closed or suspended at least some of their operations. Entertainment, venues, parks and restaurants, now limited to take-out service only, have been badly affected.
Most of the changes have happened over the past week. Visitor arrivals in February rose to 828,056, up nearly 6% from the same month last year, according to preliminary data released Tuesday by the Hawaii Tourism Authority. Spending also increased by almost 5% to almost $1.5 billion.
The gains are the last statewide tourism will see for some time. And some fear what the economic impacts will look like if the tourism lockdown continues into May and June.
Earlier this week, the University of Hawaii’s Economic Research Organization said it now expects visitor arrivals and visitor spending to fall about 41% this year.
Carl Bonham, executive director of UHERO, said the organization’s most recent forecast assumes the tourism economy is completely shut down for April and May and “business picks up in June – not full recovery, but at instead of being 100% down, it’s a fraction of that.”
“And if he does not resume his activities in June? It’s not drastically different – assuming we got the forecast right from the start, that it’s low enough.
If March visitor numbers fall more than expected, Bonham said it could cut the first and second quarters and bring the annual tourism forecast even lower than 41%.
“Yet it is not a radically different story. If we don’t reopen in May and June, it’s not very far from our forecast,” he said. “Instead of seeing visitors drop 41%, they drop 42%, 43%, 44% or 45%. We are talking about very small differences.
Bonham said the current forecast takes into account the impact of the federal relief package on individuals and households, but not on businesses. It’s possible that some Hawaii tourism businesses, like hotels and airlines, may decide to pursue some relief, which requires keeping some workers on the payroll, he said.
“The silver lining is that we brought forward a compromise bill that definitely makes a difference. The real challenge right now for many people is getting that relief as quickly as possible,” Bonham said. “The CARES Act relief does not solve our problems, but it does help solve them; and there will be additional stimuli.
Still, the interim situation for the state’s visitor industry is painful, said Keith Vieira, director of KV & Associates, Hospitality Consulting.
Vieira said most hoteliers who have suspended operations anticipate June or July as the best scenario for reopening. But that’s only if the next two weeks show some flattening of Hawaii’s COVID-19 curve, which had reached a total of 224 on Tuesday and included the islands’ first death.
Lieutenant Governor Josh Green said Tuesday that it’s “too early to know if we’ve flattened the curve enough to defeat the virus by the end of the month.”
“These next few days are critical,” Green said. “We will know what the trend is with great confidence by April 10. This will mark two weeks since the start of the home quarantine.”
Vieira said the visitor industry is very dependent on this outcome.
“If cases peak in the next two weeks, we’ll likely have around 60 days of hotel closures – that’s really the minimum amount of time it takes to close a hotel and reopen it,” he said. . “But if we don’t know by the end of April, we’ll pretty much have to give up the summer. If that happens, how will we manage to stabilize in the fourth quarter? Nobody knows.”
Vieira said even the few hotels in Hawaii that have been hanging on by welcoming essential travelers are bracing for further impacts after today, which marks the start of a new mandatory quarantine for inter-island flights.
Hawaii’s quarantine and stay-in-place orders have previously been touted as the nation’s strictest COVID-19 containment measures. But the new procedure, which aims to combat the spread of COVID-19 between islands, is even more onerous than for transpacific passengers. Like the previous Trans-Pacific Quarantine Order, violators can be charged with a misdemeanor and subject to fines of up to $5,000 and/or one year in jail.
The new order limits inter-island travel to people performing an essential function, including those providing and seeking medical care. They will need to complete an inter-island declaration form, which includes their name, residential address, phone number and destination. Unless they are traveling for medical or healthcare reasons and are wearing protective gear, such as PPE and masks, they will need to self-quarantine at their destination. They are not allowed to receive visitors and will have to order food delivery. Once they return home, they are not subject to quarantine, but must wear protective gear and follow social distancing requirements.
While pent-up demand for Hawaii is likely after the novel coronavirus pandemic subsides, the coming recession is complicating matters.
“What is not known is the economic impact on future travellers,” Vieira said. “After 9/11, people wanted to travel and reunite with their families. Travelers may want to do this after the coronavirus pandemic is over, but they may not be able to afford it. »