• Gary Mooers
  • 06/3/20

Losses Mount With The Tourist Industry On Pause

With many Maui County businesses preparing to reopen in June, others, such as companies bolstered by tourism, are having to wait longer to see customers and revenues.

A University of Hawaii Economic Research Organization study shows tourism returning to Hawaii in late July in its best-case scenarios and not until late September in its worst-case scenarios.

The most recent state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism report, which points to a double-digit economic downturn this year, forecasts the visitor industry won't start opening until September, possibly recovering 30% of arrivals from the same month last year.

Maui County and other Neighbor Islands, which are even more dependent on visitors, will suffer bigger blows than Oahu when it comes to job losses.

Still, Capt. Phil Kasper, co-owner of Boss Frog's dive shops and boat companies Calypso, Quicksliver and Malolo, was recently preparing his Calypso snorkel boat for when customers do return.

Kasper, who's been on Maui for more than three decades, had 75 workers with Boss Frog's and 30 to 40 boat employees before the pandemic hit.

Through the federal financial relief Paycheck Protection Program, he said he was able to bring back Boss Frog's employees but not boat staffers due to program restrictions.

The PPP doesn't cover his $20,000 per month in payroll taxes, and the company is having to drain its "meager savings" to participate in the program.

He said the hardships that tourism-reliant businesses are facing include continued or rising overhead expenses, such as maintenance, insurance and employee health coverage, with no income from tourists. Many tourism-related companies are even heading toward insolvency.

"It's a mistake to view the tourism industry as being the last industry to recover from the lock down - because the entire economy of the Hawaiian Islands will not recover until the tourism industry recovers. We may be the last permitted to open and the last that is able to have our customers return with the reopening, but without the tourism industry, the entire economy is going to be crippled."

Karen Christenson, Mama's Fish House vice president and founders' daughter, said that company officials are watching safety mandates for the travel industry, along with other factors, in determining when to reopen their restaurant and inn.

"We won't be reopening until we feel it is safe. Right now, we are thinking maybe August. It's not just 380 people, it's 380 families, a whole lot of fishermen and their families, the person who delivers the gas and the beer. The extension beyond this is huge."

Gov. David Ige said that he plans to extend the mandatory 14-day quarantine for out-of-state travelers beyond June 30.

Bonham said Friday that the 14-day quarantine could still be in place very late in the summer.

But there could be an arrangement "for releasing select visitors from quarantine if we have a travel arrangement with a country with very low case loads similar to Hawaii's."

Japan has mentioned as a possible partner in legislative hearings. Japanese travelers could avoid the 14-day quarantine if they complied with certain provisions, such as being tested before coming to Hawaii and agreeing to use a mobile phone app for monitoring.

The state is currently mulling options to ensure the virus doesn't reemerge when the travel mandate is relaxed, such as thermal screening at local airports or mandatory COVID-19 testing before traveling to Hawaii.

Recent Hawaii Tourism Authority data show that there were 647 visitors on Maui in April versus 248,042 visitors in the same time frame last year.

The stay-at-home-order for residents and the mandatory quarantine for visitors spurted and "unprecedented plunge" in employment.

Hawaii's seasonally adjusted unemployment rated jumped to 22.3% in April, from just 2.4% the previous month, as hotels, restaurants and retailers closed amid efforts to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

Unemployment rates will average more than 20% this year in each of the Neighbor Island counties in UHERO's baseline forecast.

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Lifting Of Inter-Island Travel Quarantine

Maui County Mayor Michael Victorino is requesting that Gov. David Ige lift the 14-day quarantine on interisland travel beginning June 15.

In a Facebook post, the mayor said the lifting of the quarantine would be part of the phased reopening of businesses and operations toward economic recovery.

"This will provide our community with a sense of normalcy, especially for those with family and friends on Neighbor Islands. Allowing them to travel is the start of economic recovery."

The reopening of interisland travel also would allow airports the opportunity to enhance policies and procedures and test equipment needed for screening arriving and departing passengers.

"This would allow our airports to prepare for future trans-Pacific travel."

Ige issued the mandatory 14-day self-quarantine on interisland travel for all visitors and residents effective April 1. The governor indicated earlier this week that the removal of the quarantine would be coming soon.

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Starting June 16, Inter-Island Travel Without Quarantine

Interisland travelers will be able to fly without quarantine requirements beginning June 16, but travelers must fill out a mandatory travel form and get a thermal temperature reading as part of the new airport screening process.

Lt. Gov. Josh Green said Hawaii's low number of new COVID-19 cases, no deaths over the past four weeks and a 95.7% recovery rate drove the decision to end the 14-day self-quarantine on interisland travel ordered April 1.

"This is an opportunity for families from outer island to reconnect with one another, to be reunited." This is an important step for reopening our kamaaina economy. We have systems in place to protect your health.

"This is the perfect opportunity for all of us to take a Neighbor Island trip and visit someplace without the tens of thousands of visitors from around the world here with us."

Green warned that residents should be prepared for a likely increase in coronavirus cases in Hawaii over the next few weeks and months as traveling resumes, but people "should not be alarmed."

"This is the nature of living with COVID-19 until we see a major progress on a treatment or vaccine."

There will be some new requirements, established by the state Department of Transportation.

Flyers are required to fill out a health and travel declaration form, which must be presented and verified at an airport checkpoint. After the form is verified, it also will be cross-checked with the current database of people on travel quarantine. To save time, declaration forms can be filled out in advance.

The form will include questions about general health, where travelers plan on staying and other details that would help the Department of Health to conduct contact tracing if necessary and to monitor COVID-19 as people start moving between islands.

Travelers also will be required to take a thermal temperature reading and will be prohibited from boarding a flight if their temperature is above 100.4 degrees.

Flyers who refuse to complete the mandatory form or currently are on the 14-day quarantine list will be prohibited from flying. Residents traveling between islands before June 16 still are subject to the 14-day quarantine.

"This will be new for a lot of people, and we want to make sure that people can start thinking about what it will look like, the time it might take, and the information we'll be asking them."

The governor said he is determining a target date "when we can invite more of our guests," but the state is remaining mindful and cautious about which Mainland communities are still coping and experiencing the impacts of COVID-19.

We are definitely focused on our next steps, making plans and having discussions about out-of-state travel and trans-Pacific travel. Other economies have opened and have seen second spikes and increasing outbreaks."

"You can rest assured that when we start welcoming more guests back that haven't been here with us for a few months, you're going to see things differently, and you're going to have different procedures to understand. But we want to make sure that you feel comfortable when we welcome you back, boarding comfortably and traveling with confidence."

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