The coronavirus pandemic has upended life as we know it, canceling large gatherings and laying off workers across a variety of industries.
With global travel reduced, the tourism industry has been especially affected by COVID-19. As states like Hawai‘i begin weighing how to safely reopen their economies, public officials are grappling with how to support local, small businesses while continuing to safeguard public health.
The virus has devastated the global economy, and tourism has been one of the hardest hit.
In the wake of the coronavirus outbreak, the U.S. Travel Association found that 51% of travel-related jobs in the United States vanished. These job losses have been particularly hard on Hawai‘i, where over 200,000 jobs depend on tourism. What’s more, tourism makes up the largest sector of Hawai‘i’s economy, accounting for 17% of the state’s GDP.
I have witnessed firsthand how the pandemic has hurt the travel industry in Hawai‘i. As the owner of Halele‘a Cleaning Services, which provides cleaning to short-term vacation rentals on the island of Kaua‘i, I’ve been forced to let go of several employees, since I do not have any work for them.
Much to my surprise, at the start of COVID-19 many hotels were considered essential businesses, while short-term vacation rentals remained largely inoperative. But short-term vacation rentals are uniquely situated to balance the demands of public health and the responsible reopening of small towns. Also, recent Skift data shows that many travelers now view vacation rentals as their preferred traveling option following the pandemic.
After all, vacation rentals can provide a safer option than hotels, primarily because they encourage a degree of social distancing and contain fewer high-traffic areas.
Many vacation rentals do not require visitors to share elevator rides with other guests or walk through crowded lobbies. Vacation rentals also have self-contained kitchens and allow guests to do their own laundry.
And unlike hotel chains whose earnings leave the island and go to corporate profits, vacation rentals serve as an economic boon to local communities, as they infuse money directly into the hands of Kaua‘i residents and small businesses.
I gladly welcome Gov. David Ige’s recent announcement that vacation rentals will be allowed to reopen on Kaua‘i to those inter-island travelers no longer needing to quarantine beginning on June 16, along with plans to reopen rentals across Hawai‘i soon.
Due to the early shutdown and bold actions taken by Kaua‘i Mayor Derek Kawakami, Kaua‘i is the island with the lowest number of COVID-19 infections in Hawai‘i, and is now in a position to start safely reopening to travelers.
I have taken steps to ensure my business follows strict safety protocols for cleaning homes, such as wearing personal protective equipment, using recommended disinfectants, and adopting new, COVID-safe methods for changing linens and bedding. My small business stands ready not only to ensure visitors have an enjoyable stay but also to protect our local communities’ and visitors’ health and safety.
As a multi-generational resident of Kaua‘i, I feel honored to work in an industry that welcomes travelers as they experience our aloha culture.
An essential part of safely reopening the tourism industry will be restoring public trust through enhanced cleaning practices. Likewise, allowing tourism to thrive again will require a wide variety of accommodation options.
Vacation rentals are in the right position to meet the concerns of public health and economic revitalization. I thank Governor Ige, Kaua‘i Mayor Kawakami, and other public officials for including short-term vacation rentals as part of their reopening plan, as the livelihoods of countless local residents depend on tourism’s survival.
Erin Jimenez, owner, Halele‘a Cleaning Services, is a Kaua‘i resident.