Hawaii tourism

Hilton Hawaiian Village reopens as Hawaii tourism slowly recovers

The reopening of the Hilton Hawaiian Village Waikiki Beach Resort, the state’s largest hotel property, and the start of COVID-19 vaccinations in Hawaii are important milestones on the still long and winding road to tourism recovery.

Tuesday’s reopening of HHV is expected to bring some 250 to 300 employees back to work. It also allowed many of the property’s entrepreneurs, including Hatsuhana Japanese Restaurant Hawaii, Lappert’s Hawaii, Blue Water Shrimp, CJ’s New York Style Delicatessen, Rocky Japanese Steak Teppan Restaurant and Round Table Pizza, to resume operations.

But by the end of the week, only two of Hilton Hawaiian Village’s five towers will have opened: Rainbow Tower on Tuesday and Ali’i Tower, a celebrity playground where Michael Jackson stayed, on Friday.

>> PHOTOS: The Hilton Hawaiian Village reopens in Waikiki

The reopening of HHV’s two most popular towers only returns about 1,100 rooms to operations. It’s a cautious restart that’s creating jobs for only a fraction of the roughly 2,000 employees who worked at the roughly 2,860-room resort before its April 13 coronavirus-related closure.

Still, it’s an improvement on the toll of the pandemic over the past nine months, which has decimated the hospitality industry across the state and seen employment at the Hilton Hawaiian Village drop to a low of 60 workers. .

HHV General Manager Debi Bishop said, “It’s going to be a slow start, and we’re going to build from there. We will get more people back to work as occupancy levels improve. At this point, we don’t know how quickly it will return. But you have to start somewhere, and we want to be open so we can bring our team members and guests back.

ROAD TO RECOVERY

A Hawaii hotel forecast prepared by Hendersonville, Tennessee, STR for the Hawaii Tourism Authority estimates that by the end of 2021, hotel occupancy statewide will have reached just 46 .3%, still below the 50% to 60% occupancy required by the industry. to reach the break-even point.

The start of COVID-19 vaccinations for Hawaii’s healthcare workers on Tuesday created some optimism that better times are coming. Tourism is expected to improve as Hawaii and other states move toward herd immunity, the point where pre-existing immunity to COVID-19 is high enough to halt the spread.

But Hawaii Lieutenant Governor Josh Green has warned it could be another six to eight months before herd immunity is achieved here.

Likewise, Alison Hoyt, STR’s senior director of consulting and analytics, told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser that the company’s 2021 guidance assumes substantial progress against COVID-19 in the first half of the year. next year and that at least one or more vaccines would be available by the middle of next year.

In terms of revenue per available room (revPAR) growth, the state’s largest hotel market, Oahu, is expected to lag. RevPAR, considered the most telling performance metric in the industry, is the money earned for each available hotel room, regardless of occupancy status.

“Oahu’s revPAR next year is expected to be 20th out of the top 25 U.S. markets,” Hoyt said. “When we look at the payback time to get Oahu’s revPAR back to the $202 it reached in 2019, our forecast is beyond 2024. That will be a five-plus-year payback from the losses of this year.”

Many Hawaii hotels have temporarily closed during the pandemic as government restrictions and fear of COVID-19 have significantly reduced travel demand. About 65% of the state’s hotel room supply had returned by Oct. 15, the start of the state’s pre-arrival testing program under Safe Travels Hawaii. But so far, the formal return of travelers to Hawaii hasn’t filled hotel rooms as much as many had hoped.

STR reported that U.S. occupancy for the week of Nov. 22-28 fell to its lowest level since May, with Oahu’s occupancy rate of 22.7% among the lowest levels in the 25 main hotel markets in the country.

Some 404,086 visitors came to Hawaii between Oct. 15 and Monday, but only 249,735 came for pleasure or vacation, according to Safe Travels Hawaii. As many as 89,780 Safe Travels Hawaii passengers said they were here to visit friends or family. On Monday, only 4,036 of those passengers said they were staying in a hotel.

HOPE RETURNS

HHV wasn’t crowded on Tuesday, but it was nice to see activity pick up again, said Local 5 union member Charlotte Nahinu-Liberato, a reservations supervisor who has worked at HHV for 38 years.

“I have found hope,” Nahinu-Liberato said. “It’s been like a ghost town for the past eight months. I’m so excited that four more members of our 20-member department have been brought back. Also, the phone kept ringing today. Customers want to come back and they want to know what’s open.

West Virginia visitors Joni Blum and her son Daniel were also excited about the reopening of HHV, allowing them to finally realize the Hawaiian vacation they had originally planned for June. The Blums postponed their previous trip due to Hawaii’s COVID-19 restrictions and tourism lockdowns.

They went through current pre-arrival testing requirements, but ran into a problem on Monday when they arrived in Hawaii to find HHV had yet to reopen.

“We haven’t received an update from our travel agent and my heart sank to find out the hotel was closed,” Joni Blum said. “We found another hotel last night. We showed up early today to make sure the property was really open.

The couple’s early arrival paid off as HHV upgraded their resort view room for a six-night stay in the Niumalu Suite, an ocean-facing room combination that costs around $2,350 a night.

Hilton is also offering kamaaina a per night rate of $164 for stays through May 31. Rate waives resort fees and includes free self-parking for one vehicle, 10% off Waikiki Beach Activities lagoon toy rentals, 20% off select spa treatments. and 20% off Blue Water Shrimp and Seafood.

To visit HiltonHawaiianVillage.com/kamaaina to book the Kamaaina package.

Yukiko Yamagishi, owner of Japanese restaurant Hatsuhana, said she hopes locals and visitors will soon make HHV busy again.

“We’ve gone from around 50 employees before the pandemic to around 10 or 15 now,” she said. “I hope business will be busier and I can bring back more employees.”

RETURNING WORKERS

Unite Here Local 5 spokesman Bryant of Venecia said the return of 212 Local 5 union members – about 12% of HHV’s once-1,746-strong union workforce – is the largest recall of hospitality workers in Hawaii since the pandemic began. Yet even with the Hilton’s improvements, de Venecia said only 1,200 of Local 5’s 8,000 Hawaii hospitality workers have returned to work.

“The reopening of the Hilton Hawaiian Village is just one more small step,” de Venecia said.

Almost all Local 5 hotel employers in Hawaii have reopened, with the exception of Turtle Bay Resort, but de Venecia said normalcy is still a way out.

So far, the Sheraton Waikiki has recalled 103 of 1,022 union members to work, he said. Some 68 of the 1,022 Local 5 union members have returned to the Princess Kaiulani, de Venecia added.

About 30 Local 5 members had also returned to work at the Sheraton Kauai. However, de Venecia said about half were furloughed again Thursday after the property closed following Kauai’s decision to withdraw from the state’s pre-arrival testing program.

Travel demand for Kauai has dropped dramatically since Dec. 2, when Kauai began requiring trans-Pacific and inter-island passengers to quarantine for 14 days. Safe Travels reported that only three travelers arrived in Kauai on Monday.

De Venecia said the current conditions are having an economic and emotional impact on Local 5 members.

“The majority of our unemployed members lost their health care in November. Those who qualify have applied to Medquest; other members can buy COBRA coverage, but it costs about $900 to $1,000 per family,” he said.

As some members pursue other careers or side gigs, de Venecia said, more help is needed.

“We really don’t know if our members can survive,” he said.