Revitalizing the Tourism Economy
While the COVID-19 pandemic is still affecting locales around the world, Hawai'i has successfully flattened the curve and must now consider the recovery process and what that may look like. Although many may think that tourism should be the last sector of our economy to open, this really does not make sense nor is it practical given our high unemployment rate. Each sector of our economy is, in some way or form, touched by tourism and visitors. The path forward must be parallel for both tourism and the other facets of our economy, and just also focus on identifying ways to bring healthy visitors to Hawai’i. As an experienced and tested leader of both government service and Hawai'i’s tourism sector, Mufi has a Plan to address this.
Everything must focus on health and hygiene standards. The only way to restore trust in our industry is to establish clear, stringent health and hygiene policy as evidenced by HLTA’S protocols on health and hygiene that were developed through a process that involved management and labor to provide input and recommendations. This will not only set a standard for the entire industry but also make clear to both visitors and tourism professionals that protecting their health and livelihoods is first and foremost. Moreover, health standards will signal to healthy prospective travelers that they can safely visit here without putting their health at risk.
Align the Industry
New policy is only as good as the constituents who buy into it. It is imperative that new standards garner wide support from the entire hotel and lodging industry. If these standards are to be successful and continue to be upheld, there must be industry-wide buy-in from tourism professionals from bellmen to the executive suite. Also, all sectors of the industry including restaurants, retail, attractions, ground operators, car rental services including our Japanese tour operators, and the like must all be aligned.
State & County Government Approval
The final step in developing standards for the tourism industry is to have them vetted and approved by both State , in particular the Department of Health , and the counties. The main point here is that there must be governmental oversight that validates and approves any proposed health and hygiene standards. This will instantly lend credibility to a plan that has been well thought out and developed.
Top to Bottom Education
Next, the entire industry and all that it affects must be educated about the new standards, what they aim to address, and how this will be accomplished. Educational programs and informational campaigns must speak to the why new standards are needed; As in, why these plans are necessary rather than just what the plans are. Investments into new policies, practices, and technology are important to implement even during these tough economic times.
Restoration of Visitors
Once the above steps are completed, phased reopening of the tourist economy can truly begin. This should commence with the restoration of interisland flights to be followed by domestic and, eventually, international travel through a travel bubble agreement with one of our strongest tourism markets, Japan. A phased approach like this would allow the industry to hone new policies and ensure that we are ready for domestic and international travelers. Moreover, this would also allow the tourism industry to begin its recovery process sooner rather than later and make it feasible for healthy Hawai‘i residents to be the first to engage in interisland travel. It would also reinforce the notion to all around the world that if you are to eventually come and visit our islands , we want travelers who are healthy to come and enjoy our sprit of aloha.
This whole process would be made significantly more efficient if the mayors of each county are working in close unison. When Mayor Mufi last served at Honolulu Hale, he forged close working relationships with Mayor Bernard Carvalho, Mayor Charmaine Tavares, Mayor Billy Kenoi, Mayor Alan Arakawa, Mayor Bryan Baptiste, and Mayor Harry Kim. If elected to his old position, he will quickly look to re-convene the Hawai’i Council of Mayors that he initiated by forging collaborative working relationships with the mayors of each county again. This in turn would demonstrate a united front to the Governor, the State, the private sector, labor, and the community that, when the county mayors can agree on such important issues, positive results are bound to happen for the good of all of us.
It stands to be said that, because tourism is our strongest and most consistent economic drivers, we cannot commence a successful reopening of the economy without tourism. It contributes more dollars to the economy than any other industry, helps to fund every aspect of our state and local governments, and employs more people than any other industry sector. The path forward again must be parallel and must consider the far-reaching impacts of Hawai'i’s tourism sector.
The effects of COVID-19 and the resulting economic downturn provide us with a unique opportunity to both re-brand the way we operate and consider new ways to cultivate quality visitors rather than focusing on the “heads in beds” tourism model. It is impractical to believe tourism in Hawai'i should go away and not exist. It needs to be responsibly managed, a culturally and environmentally sensitive industry that has gone to painstaking lengths to seek out and embrace Native Hawaiian and community input.
Tourism will continue to be the top economic driver for our economy, and we should capitalize on this rare chance that is before us to create a more sustainable model that can be the foundation to build synergistic relationships with other industries so that they may thrive as well. Hawai'i is a special place where we can all live, work, play, and raise our families, and we should re- dedicate ourselves to ensuring that this remains so for many decades to come.