Ocean safety and the private sector: Part 2, lodgings

In our last column we looked at possible ways to deliver a brief “hey, have fun and be a bit cautious” message before visitors even arrive on Kaua’i.

We’ll now discuss what ocean safety measures can — and in some cases are — adopted by the places where our visitors stay. My columns, incidentally, will be shorter than they have been, and I anticipate it will take me at least two and maybe three columns to fully explore this subject.

My list of these places of lodging includes resort hotels, time-share/condo properties, vacation rental homes, bed & breakfasts, and finally our own homes when we have family or close friends visit.

Starting with resort hotels: A very high bar has been set by the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel on the Kona Coast. They front their own beach and they have a full beach lifeguard service, with USLA-certified lifeguards, a tower, a JetSki/sled, a supervisor — the works. The supervisor, Keith Cabral, very much fits the poster picture of a Hawaiian Beach Boy, but underneath this image is a very dedicated and skillful lifeguard, organizer and businessman. We’ve had him come to Kaua‘i on two occasions to talk with our hotel executives about Mauna Kea’s program. The Mauna Kea program was started after back-to-back seven-figure lawsuits were successfully brought against the hotel after ocean tragedies, following which the victims’ families successfully pled that the hotel wasn’t properly warning their guests of the ocean’s dangers. At that point the management realized that it was better practice as well as better business for them to have a top-notch ocean safety program.

Furthermore, on the business side of this, they have come up with a creative program that helps with the expense of what they do. (A rough estimate of the cost of setting up and maintaining a lifeguard service can be $350,000 for year one, $250,000 each year thereafter.) I don’t know all the details, but basically they’ve created a membership club in which Big Island residents enroll in the club for a fee, and for that they are allowed to use the pool, preferred parking, the gym facilities, and of course the beach facilities. Even as you get out of your car in the parking lot you start encountering color-coded ocean safety signs with instructions and images on them. This same system of signage and images then extends into the lobby, into the hallways, and into all the hotel’s egresses onto the beach.

We can certainly think of a number of resort hotels here on Kaua‘i whose beaches merit a lifeguard service. I also realize, however, that none of our hotels are quite analagous to the Mauna Kea. For instance, to even get to the Mauna Kea’s beach you have to drive through a security gate. In the case of our hotels, accessing their beaches is much easier — and therefore the incentive to join a club in order to get to the beach can’t be nearly as strong. But maybe our managers can still commit to making lifeguarding their beach a high priority and come up with some kind of similar idea — and can start investigating ways, for example, to team up with the county toward a beachfront lifeguard service, or to seek out grants for this, or at the very least, to have Keith come over as a consultant regarding all aspects of a hotel’s ocean safety program.

Now our resort hotels are, I believe, steadily improving in their ocean safety message, as the issue has gradually become more a part of our overall awareness. The Kauai Marriott, for example, puts one of our county-sponsored beach safety brochures into each room. And I have noticed that the staffs of the activities desks in the lobbies are doing a great job of giving their customers a “please use some caution” message. I was made very happy this last week when I had an activities desk worker as a patient, and after I (hopefully) helped her with her medical concern, I asked her how she’s doing with ocean safety. She replied “Oh, we have your column on ‘Don’t go to Larsen’s Beach’ under the plexiglass at our desk.”

Made my day. And I feel like I’m seeing this awareness at a lot of these desks. Many of these desks aren’t formally under the hotel management and are owned by companies such as Pleasant Holidays. I’m very happy to report that the manager of Pleasant Holidays is particularly committed to having her staff at all of her desks include some words about ocean safety into their interaction with their customers. That right there is the aloha spirit, the spirit of breath and life.

Stay tuned for Part 3, set to run on Nov. 21, and thank you for reading these columns and for thinking about them a bit. I think we all know that the stakes are high, and any improvements we can accomplish are blessed.

• Monty Downs is an emergency room doctor at Wilcox Memorial Hospital. His column appears every other Wednesday.


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