Hawaiian Timeout

Mauna Kea Beach Hotel was fully tented on May 8th

This Facebook post made us smile the other day:

To all the states and countries reopening now:
Please do not come to Hawai‘i.
We are still in time-out and can’t have friends over.

It’s kind of a fun way to think about the very un-fun situation we find ourselves in right now. Not that Hawai‘i has done anything to be punished for, but we really do miss our friends. In the last couple of months, as you’ve no doubt heard, we’ve gone from about 30,000 daily visitor arrivals statewide, to just a few hundred. And while we are very blessed to have a low infection rate, and our hearts truly go out to those who are suffering, this enormous change affects almost everything in our island state.

One way or another, from airline and hospitality employees to the farmers, ranchers and fisherfolk who provide food for the industry, the musicians and dancers, lei-makers, tour guides and more, a whole lot of people are feeling like fish out of water. Big Island resident Jeanne Cooper, former travel editor for the San Francisco Chronicle, captures this unique moment in time in her exceptional article, “What it feels like in Hawaii right now.

People-less coastlines, empty Waikiki streets, the venerable Mauna Kea Beach Hotel—in its entirety—tented for termites. She also captures the creativity of aloha in action, as friends and neighbors pull together to feed families at drive-thru soup kitchens and mass food box deliveries. In fact, Jeanne donated her fee for the story to the St. James Community Meal in her hometown of Waimea.

As we look towards reopening to visitors, a lot of smart people—hospitality leaders, educators, environmentalists, cultural practitioners, agriculture specialists and others—are talking about the best way forward for tourism. Whatever it will look like eventually, we may see the visitor industry change, evolve into something less crowded, more “culturally informed,” and better. Jeanne, and many other fine writers are talking about that too, such as her recent article for Frommers.com.

This is not entirely new thinking. Similar concepts were promoted by the Island of Hawai‘i Visitors Bureau, when it launched the Pono Pledge in 2018. For decades, people have talked about “killing the golden goose,” advocating for controlled, more sustainable growth in tourism. This is a time where many are re-thinking the old models, a time filled with possibilities.

At the time of this writing, there were a very small number of cases of COVID 19 reported on Hawai‘i Island. It’s going to take some time, but our doors will be open again soon, and Hawai‘i will be ready to welcome visitors back to their special places in the sun.

Meanwhile, we’re in time-out. A hui hou!