“Plan ahead, plan ahead, plan ahead”: Hawaii prepares for winter travel season
Clockwise from top left: Samantha Carreira, Account Manager, Hawaii Tourism Canada Office; Cindy Sosroutomo, Deputy Editor, Travelweek; Randy Parker, Director of Sales, Maui Visitors & Convention Bureau; Karishma Chowfin, Director of Sales, Oahu Visitors Bureau; Deanna Isbister, Director of Sales, Island of Hawaii Visitors Bureau; and Maile Brown, Director of Marketing, Kaua'i Visitors Bureau

“Plan ahead, plan ahead, plan ahead”: Hawaii prepares for winter travel season

TORONTO — How do you practice ‘Mālama’ in Hawaii? Easy, you simply take care of each other, the community, the environment and yourselves.

The age-old concept, meaning ‘to take care of,’ has never been more relevant, with the global pandemic resulting in unprecedented strain on the Islands’ people and resources. But with the situation vastly improving in recent weeks – the seven-day average of COVID-19 cases in Hawaii is down from 910 on Sept. 2, 2021 to just 130 on Oct. 27, 2021, a direct result of Governor David Ige’s recent plea to all residents and visitors to delay non-essential travel until after the end of October – the destination is ready to once again welcome Canadians to its shores.

To kick off the unofficial start of the winter travel season, Hawaii Tourism Canada hosted its annual Aloha Canada event on Oct. 28, held virtually for the second year in a row, with 692 registered travel agents and over 15 suppliers, destinations and cultural partners in attendance. Calling it a marquee event, Kalani Ka‘anā‘anā tells Travelweek that the Aloha Canada mission is one of the organization’s key touchpoints with the Canadian travel trade.

“Canada is the second largest international market for the Hawaiian Islands and has a longstanding relationship with Hawaii, so Canadian travel agents are very important to us,” he says. “We see them as an extension to us in Canada and we rely on them to educate their clients about our regenerative tourism efforts and how to travel safely and responsibly throughout the Hawaiian Islands.”

With the United States set to reopen its borders to fully vaccinated travellers on Nov. 8, and with Hawaii’s Safe Travels pre-testing program still in place, the destination is anticipating healthy visitor numbers from Canada this winter. The current DBEDT (Hawaii Department of Business, Economic Development & Tourism) forecast as of Q3 is 112,824 Canadian arrivals. In 2019, prior to the pandemic, a total of 540,103 Canadians visited the Hawaiian Islands.

“Moving forward, we are optimistic due to the positive signs of travel demand and are keen to see the return of Canadians to Hawaii,” adds Ka‘anā‘anā.

The Safe Travels pre-testing program applies to all passengers five years old and over, regardless of vaccination status and also includes a mandatory 10-day quarantine. Travellers from Canada may bypass the quarantine if they show proof of a negative COVID-19 test result from a lab identified by Air Canada or WestJet prior to departure. All travellers are also required to complete a travel and health form found on the Safe Travels Digital Platform.

Travelweek chatted with island representatives from Kaua’i, Oahu, Island of Hawaii and Maui who took part in yesterday’s virtual event to discuss everything from current capacity and health and safety, to the importance of planning ahead and pre-booking.

 

SLOW & STEADY

When asked if they’re anticipating a huge influx of visitors come Nov. 8, the island chapters said a slow and steady return to tourism was more likely – and that’s perfectly fine with them.

“I don’t think we’re ready for a big avalanche of visitors, we’re going to get it kind of piecemeal and that’s okay,” said Randy Parker, Director of Sales for the Maui Visitors & Convention Bureau. “It gives us a chance to re-tweak, to grow. You have to remember that a lot of outlets and venues are not fully staffed, with some still operating on skeleton crews, and a lot of large venues are operating at maybe 50% or 70% and that’s exactly where they need to be right now. So we certainly don’t want more people than what we can handle.”

Deanna Isbister, Director of Sales, Island of Hawaii Visitors Bureau, stressed the importance of booking ahead while suppliers slowly build up their operations.

“When you look at their schedules last month, they may have operated two times a week, Now, they’re maybe up to four times a week,” she said. “So I think it’s important that everybody try and plan in advance as much as they can and book their favourite activities ahead of time.”

 

HOTELS & CAR RENTALS

Hawaii’s rental car fleet decreased by more than 40% during the pandemic, which in addition to an increase in travel, has now led to a rental car shortage in the destination. But according to Parker, rental car companies are slowly and steadily increasing their inventory.

“There was a point when they had extremely limited resources and those resources were being rented immediately, but not it’s slowly being less of an issue,” said Parker. ‘Are they at 100%? No. But are they growing? Absolutely. They committed to us that they’re going to be back in shape for the season, which is right around the corner.”

As for hotel capacity, Karishma Chowfin, Director of Sales, Oahu Visitors Bureau, noted that many hotels have limited inventory, whether due to closing towers or shutting down entire floors to ensure social distancing and better manage the flow of people.

“It’s important to know that here on Oahu, we still do have capacity restrictions, not just for hotels but also our restaurants, museums and attractions,” said Chowfin. “There may be 100 seats now but only 50 available, and those 50 are booking out. So make those reservations in advance.”

 

WHAT’S NEW & REOPENING

Hawaii is slowly but surely returning to some sense of normalcy, with live events and attractions making a comeback.

The Made in Hawaii Festival, the state’s largest festival showcasing Hawaii-made products, will be making its highly anticipated return on Nov. 11-13 in Honolulu after going virtual last year. Set to take place in the open air, the festival will feature over 200 exhibitors selling everything from art and jewelry, to clothing and delicious food.

Also notable is the return of weekly and monthly farmers markets, which according to Maile Brown, Director of Marketing, Kaua’i Visitors Bureau, are back better than ever.

“People have been working together to get their stuff out, and I believe there’s a market nearly every single day of the week here that people can experience,” she said. “It goes back to the idea of Mālama because it’s all about interacting and supporting our community.”

Maui’s First Friday series, town parties that take place on the first Friday of each month, was cancelled due to the pandemic. However, according to Parker, city officials in Maui are considering resuming the popular series. “Nothing has been committed to yet but they’re moving in that direction,” he said.

And on the Island of Hawaii, the Kona Coffee Cultural Festival, known for being one of the oldest food festivals in Hawaii, is set to take place from Nov. 4-7 as a hybrid event, featuring both live and virtual elements. In-person events include farm tours, artist demonstrations, art exhibitions, music performances, a talent night, art strolls and a half marathon.

 

THE ONE THING AGENTS SHOULD REMEMBER

All island representatives had the same message to travel agents heading into the winter season: book early.

Noting that it’s not simply a capacity issue but also a staffing one, Brown encourages agents to pre-book hotels, car rentals and attractions as soon as travel dates are set to ensure availability and best possible rates.

“I know there are several places on all of our islands that require reservations. Places in Kaua’i like the Kalalau Trail, the Hanakapi’ai Trail and Ke’e Beach – if you don’t have an advance paid reservation, you’re not getting in. They release slots 30 days out and they sell out so it’s super important to research those places that are now requiring reservations.”

And over on Oahu, Chowfin also noted that the Pearl Harbour National Memorial, the island’s #1 attraction, no longer has a walk-up window to purchase same-day tickets to the Arizona Memorial. Tickets must be purchased ahead of time at recreation.gov.

“Plan ahead, plan ahead, plan ahead,” said Chowfin. “Making those reservations is so important. And equally important is to be mindful of others if you need to cancel that reservation, to give somebody else the chance to dine at that restaurant or participate in an activity. It all comes back to the idea of Mālama and taking care of one another.”

 


Key websites:

As part of Oahu’s Safe Access program, customers must show proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test prior to entering restaurants, bars, gyms and other establishments. For more details go to https://www.oneoahu.org/safe-access-oahu/#patrons.

For more information about Hawaii’s entry requirements and safety protocols go to https://hawaiicovid19.com/travel/travel-overview/.