Kohala Coast resorts are making headway toward reopening amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, though no specific dates have been set in stone.
Representatives from several properties on the Gold Coast Thursday shared with state and county legislators and officials their ever-evolving plans and procedures for reopening with on-site visits at The Westin Hapuna Beach Resort, Fairmont Orchid and Hilton Grand Vacations.
The four-hour “We Are Ready” tour allowed hoteliers and officials to “talk story” while seeing first-hand how the properties, which shuttered in March as the pandemic took off, will prevent the spread of COVID-19 when they’re ready to accept guests from near and far. It was also an opportunity to share ideas and concerns.
“The companies that run these properties have actually done a good job in looking at what are the issues and how to address them. I particularly like that everybody has emphasized the employee safety as well as guest safety. There’s just some slight nuances between what everybody’s doing hopefully there will not be problems with the differences in protocol,” said Rep. Richard Onishi, later adding, “as you know, we have very little control over what they are doing, despite our concerns.”
While policies and procedures may vary by the branded property, the message and mission didn’t differ across the sites that the safety, health and wellbeing of guests, staff and the community is at the forefront of any reopening.
“All of the brands share the same commitment of taking care of the guests and employees,” said Craig Anderson, vice president of resort operations at Mauna Kea Resort, which includes the Westin Hapuna and Mauna Kea Beach Resort; chairperson of the Hawaii Lodging and Tourism Association Island of Hawaii Chapter; and treasurer for the Kohala Coast Resort Association. The latter two agencies put on the event.
Each property visited Thursday shared its policies and standards, from temperature screening upon arrival and enforcement of mask mandates and handling potential quarantine violators to the use of chemicals and timing for room cleaning, occupancy limits and procedure changes and training that will take place before any reopening.
Among the most visible changes guests will find — beyond signage, sanitation stations, and reduced capacity to allow for social distancing — is that all areas, including rooms, will have little to no paper or reusable items, such as pens, menus and magazines. That’s because most properties are moving to digital platforms to reduce the possibility of transmission of the virus. Even keys are going mobile.
Interaction between staff and guests will also change in line with social distancing guidelines.
“Historically, we’ve been a very high touch, lots of aloha kind of business and now we’re evolving to a no-touch situation,” Anderson said. “It’s a little bit unnatural for us, to be honest with you, so we’re learning how to express ourselves without being able to see a smile and how to share our aloha with people in a way that makes everybody feel comfortable.”
There also will no longer be valet parking service, though the Westin Hapuna plans to have a golf cart shuttle, if needed. But, there will be staff dedicated to ensuring compliance, such as the new “All Safe Ambassador” at the Fairmont Orchid.
“The safety, care and wellbeing of the community in which we live, and our Fairmont Orchid ohana — which includes our guests and colleagues — remains our greatest fundamental responsibility,” said General Manager Charles Head. “Our values dictate we live pono during this crisis. Our team has been working incredibly hard at ensuring we are meeting, and in many cases exceeding, all state, local and regulatory guidelines related to sanitation and hygiene as our community works to prevent the spread of COVID-19.”
Anderson said the South Kohala Resort Association hotels are awaiting the resumption of trans-Pacific travel to reopen, noting the properties have been closed “five months and counting, and we’re probably going to add another month to that.”
“We’re waiting for the governor’s word. We know that it’s a very delicate situation. As we see the numbers climb clearly we want people to be safe, but we want to balance the health with the economy but were completely at the mercy of the elected officials,” he said.
The ongoing closure has left 4,500 of the 5,000 employees on furlough, Anderson said, noting that some properties were able to bring employees back for eight weeks after receiving Paycheck Protection Program loans.
To date, more than $20 million has been spent on medical benefits for employees with most hotels having already committed to providing benefits through the end of the year. In addition, about $1 million in food aid has been distributed to employees.
That program will continue, Anderson said, thanks to a $900,000 Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act grant provided via the county. “We’re going to be continuing the food aid program for all of our employees up and down the coast,” he said.
According to the Hawaii Tourism Authority’s most recent hotel performance report issued in late July, hotel numbers in June remained substantially down from a year ago due to the ongoing impact of COVID-19 on the tourism industry. Room demand was nearly 90% lower.
The statewide average revenue per available room dropped 89% to $25, average daily rate fell 42% to $162 and occupancy declined to 15.6% in June, down 68% from June 2019, according to the authority. Revenue was down 94% at just $22.3 million statewide.
Hawaii Island hotels led the state in June with revenue per available room at $37, occupancy at 26.9% and average daily rate at $139. Data for resorts along the Kohala Coast was not included separately in the monthly report.
Data for July will likely be released this week.