Mufi Hannemann, President and CEO of the Hawaii Tourism and Hospitality Association, and Jeff Wagoner, CEO of Outrigger Hospitality Group, joined Spotlight Hawaii this morning to talk about the state tourism in Hawaii. Nearly a year since the pandemic took hold on the islands, hotel occupancy rates are hovering around 20% and many tourism-related businesses are struggling. Still, Wagoner is optimistic about the months ahead as people are vaccinated and eager to travel after a year spent largely at home.
“Last week was the first week of this whole pandemic period where over 50% of people said they were going to travel for leisure in 2021, which is huge. The number one destination in almost every survey you see of where they want to go is Hawaii,” Wagoner said.
“People will want to come to Hawaii, but we want to do it safely. One of the reasons they want to come here is because of what we’ve already done. We were made safe, introduced ourselves as a safe place to visit.
Both men praised the Safe Travels program, which reopened trans-Pacific tourism in October, and has so far not led to a significant increase in coronavirus cases on the islands. Wagoner said that at all Outrigger properties in Hawaii, only one guest tested positive for COVID-19 after arriving, that person was a flight crew member who was able to safely quarantine. .
Hannemann said that because visitors have to take a test before arriving, they tend to be more responsible and inclined to follow COVID-19 safety protocols.
“It’s a different type of traveler that we receive here. We’ve also started to really try to emphasize that we want travelers who come here to respect our culture, respect our environment, and know that we want them to be part of making this place a better place,” he said. .
Hannemann and Wagoner said the concept of a vaccine passport, allowing visitors to bypass testing or quarantine protocols with proof of a vaccine, would safely increase arrivals, especially as more staff hotels in Hawaii are also vaccinated.
“It looks like our hospitality workers are going to end up at level 1C [for vaccines] so at some point here in the very near future they will start to have the opportunity to get vaccinated,” Wagoner said. “So if in May for example we are able to get all our employees vaccinated and at the same time we can allow our customers in, who also have vaccinations, that is really the opportunity we have. need as an industry, I think we need travel to really rebound for us in a more robust way.
“We want to ensure that our workers are considered part of this essential category [for vaccines] because of all the face-to-face responsibilities they have,” Hannemann said, later adding, “There’s nothing that’s going to get people back to work faster than this industry… If this industry doesn’t come back, we’re going to be in a major world of pain.
Spotlight Hawaii, which highlights issues affecting Hawaii, airs live at 10:30 a.m. every Monday, Wednesday and Friday on the Honolulu Star-Advertiser Facebook page. Join Ryan Kalei Tsuji and Yunji from Nies this month for a guest conversation. Click here to watch previous conversations and to see the rest of this month’s schedule.