TORONTO — Before sending your clients to Hawaii this winter, the Islands have this important piece of advice for travel agents: do your research first.
During yesterday’s Aloha Canada 2020 Virtual Event, which connected close to 500 travel agents with Hawaii’s destination partners, Travelweek sat down with representatives from Maui, Oahu, Kauai and the Island of Hawaii for a virtual interview that focused on how agents can best prepare their clients for their holidays in the Aloha state. Hawaii, as Travelweek reported last month, has opened a safe travel corridor with Canada in collaboration with Air Canada and WestJet. Starting this month with the resumption of each airline’s Hawaii flights, the corridor is made possible thanks to a new pre-testing program for Canadians that would essentially allow them to bypass Hawaii’s mandatory 14-day quarantine.
Despite the continued closure of the Canada-U.S. border and Canada’s recently extended 14-day quarantine, Pattie V. Herman, VP Marketing & Product Development at the Hawaii Tourism Authority tells Travelweek that the state is still anticipating some decent numbers.
“Because we’re in the middle of a pandemic, there are many uncertainties and we’re dealing with an incredibly fluid situation. But there is definitely demand for travel from Canada to Hawaii, especially during the winter months,” she says. “Hawaii has the most rigorous pre-travel testing program and we’re grateful for Air Canada and WestJet for being travel partners with the state.”
This optimism was echoed by Randy Parker, Director of Sales, Maui Visitors & Convention Bureau, who says that Hawaii “very much so” wants to welcome back Canadians – but in a safe and responsible way.
“We really are happy to welcome visitors but we also want to welcome them within the requirements that we have set forth,” he says. “You’ll find that visitors and residents are actively involved in maintaining this level in trying to stay safe. We do it because we have such limited medical resources available to us. We cannot afford an outbreak.”
While the islands of Maui, Oahu and Hawaii are all participating in the ‘Safe Travels Hawaii’ pre-travel testing program and, by extension, Canada’s new testing program with Air Canada and WestJet, Kauai, on the other hand, backed out of the program on Dec. 2. This means that while Canadians can still technically visit Kauai, they are subject to a mandatory 14-day quarantine (or the duration of their stay, whichever is shorter) upon arrival, which must be done at a hotel or condo-resort property. Airbnbs, Transient Vacation Rentals (TVRs) and short-term rentals are not considered acceptable quarantine locations.
“The pre-testing program is great but we had a lot of people who did the program, got to the island and then became symptomatic and turned positive, which was very concerning. We saw our case counts on Kauai go from basically 0 to tripling and quadrupling in a short amount of time, and with such limited resources on our island community there was a pretty substantial worry about overtaxing our hospitals,” says Maile Brown, Director of Marketing, Kauai Visitors Bureau. “So our mayor has asked that we opt out of the program, at least temporarily, until we can get our numbers on Kauai back to a more manageable level and until the mainland starts to see some kind of levelling off.”
Kauai’s withdrawal from the pre-testing program emphasizes the fluid nature of the pandemic, which means things can change at the drop of a hat. Though Hawaii has the lowest COVID-19 rates in the United States with just over 18,000, the state has not eased up on its efforts to mitigate the spread of the virus, which includes keeping certain facilities and attractions closed and/or adjusting operational hours. As Deanna Isbister, Director of Sales, Island of Hawaii Visitors Bureau, says, “if someone’s coming back to Hawaii after having been before, they may find that an activity that was offered seven days a week before the pandemic may have gone down to only two days a week now.”
All island representatives, therefore, are in total agreement: planning ahead and doing your research is absolutely key. This is where travel advisors can help immensely.
“Travel advisors are going to be very important as we move out of this because they truly are going to be the experts and will be bailing clients out of bad situations, just how we’ve seen at the start of the pandemic,” says Karishma Chowfin, Director of Sales, Oahu Visitors Bureau. “Advisors have the folks at Hawaii Tourism Canada, both on the West Coast and East Coast, as a lifeline. So reach out to them, they’re right there in your time zones to help so that you can go the extra mile for your clients.”
Maui’s Parker seconded the notion, encouraging travel advisors to “use us as a resource, send us an email and give us a call.” Assuring agents that “there are no stupid questions,” Parker notes that it’s impossible to find all relevant information on the Internet, especially when it comes to up-to-date health and safety protocols. While its widely known that Hawaii is mandating face coverings and masks in public, including on beaches, other pertinent information like what’s open and closed on each respective island can best be found with a simple phone call.
“Don’t just put your clients at the Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua – talk to the Ritz first to see what’s open at the hotel. Don’t just show up at an activity expecting to walk in, make reservations first,” says Parker. “Make sure your guests understand what’s required of them. There’s a lot of jumping through hoops that’s required right now. You have to know these things so make sure you do your homework and assist your guests.”
This winter season, WestJet is offering service to Hawaii between YYC-HNL, YYC-OGG, YVR-HNL and YVR-OGG. Air Canada will be offering service between YYC-HNL, YYC-OGG, YVR-HNL, YVR-OGG and YVR-KOA. Flights will be adapted demanding on demand. As part of the Canada pre-testing program, passengers who fail to present a negative COVID-19 from an accredited lab recognized by either airline will not be able to board their flight to Hawaii.
For the latest updates about travel to Hawaii go to https://hawaiicovid19.com/.