Hawaii’s summer vacation season never took off. The state struggled to keep the number of coronavirus cases under control by imposing strict two-week quarantine rules for visitors and locals. What does the winter holiday season look like?
“Will the state even be open [for Christmas]?” said Marc Bromley, general manager of Four Seasons Maui in Wailea. “That’s the million-dollar question.”
Last week, Gov. David Ige postponed lifting entry rules until Oct. 1 at the earliest. The governor plans to replace the 14-day quarantine with COVID-19 testing for people entering the state. Initially, he was going to roll out the plan in August, and then September. The reopening kept getting pushed back as the number of cases increased.
If Hawaii does reopen in time for Thanksgiving or Christmas, you can expect things to be different, said Dylan Ching, vice-president of the parent company for Duke’s Waikiki and other restaurants.
And he has this to say to travelers: “If they’ve come before, they’ll see a different landscape,” he said. “I think the reality is a lot of places will end up closing for good. … There will be less options for people when they get here.”
Ching estimated that 30% of eateries in the Waikiki area will shut for good in the coming months. He blames not only COVID-19 but also an oversaturation of places to dine.
Regarding the holidays, the Four Seasons’ Bromley said his best guess is that his resort and others will be welcoming guests for Thanksgiving and Christmas — and won’t scrimp on service. The resort plans to offer all their usual amenities, plus some new ones, such as 24/7 on-site medical care and a virtual classroom for children. “Service doesn’t have to take a backseat to safety,” he said.
Mufi Hannemann, president of the Hawaii Tourism & Lodging Assn., an organization representing 800 hotels and related businesses, says winter visitors will have a less crowded island experience, one different from other years. “We’ll try our best to give you that quality spirit of aloha that we’ve always been known for,” he said. “Don’t take us off your list yet.”
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Most of Hawaii’s COVID-19 reported cases are on the island of Oahu, where Honolulu is located. With that in mind, John White, director of sales and marketing at Maui’s Kaanapali Beach Hotel, suggests some travelers may feel more comfortable going to lesser-visited islands with fewer cases.
Billed as “Hawaii’s most Hawaiian hotel,” the resort promises cultural activities will be ready to go when state officials allow hotels to reopen. White is eager to show off the $75-million renovation. Work on the hotel continued through the pandemic.
‘We are not anticipating high occupancies once Hawaii does reopen,” White said. “[Guests] will have more open beaches.”
Once the state eases quarantine restrictions, travelers will need to provide proof of a negative test for COVID-19 taken within 72 hours of departure. State health officials have yet to address how people will be able to provide test results within three days when it often takes much longer.
“The testing will be a hurdle,” Ching said. Before the pandemic, Duke’s Waikiki typically received about 85% of its business from tourists. The restaurant currently is taking in about one-fourth of the money it made prior to the pandemic.”
Interest in travel to Hawaii may be growing.
Research collected for the L.A. Times by online travel retailer Skyscanner showed that searches for travel to Honolulu grew by nearly 50% earlier this month. For actual bookings, Honolulu is the ninth most-popular destination in the U.S for November. It climbs to fifth for December.