Vacation rentals can, should safely reopen

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.

  1. Carey Sutton June 29, 2020 5:53 am Reply

    One little item you forgot to mention re vacation rentals. The renters go to the grocery stores to stock their kitchens. So with filled vacation rentals, you are creating an unsafe situations for store employees and locals.

    Vacation rentals are also more time consuming to monitor in cases where, for example, guests arrive without having taken that blood test and are then required to quarantine for 2 weeks.

    Just sayin’

    1. Ikaika Kalo June 30, 2020 12:32 pm Reply

      We wouldn’t want any guests under quarantine going to the grocery store. Whether visitors stay in a vacation rental or a hotel they should not be allowed to go to the grocery store as long as they’re quarantined. The only way guests could stay in a vacation rental during quarantine is if they know someone on island who can help them get groceries and deliver them directly to the house.

    2. Loladog June 30, 2020 1:56 pm Reply

      Dear Carey,

      Visitors will either have passed a recent test, or will be quarantined for 14 days. Got it? The only visitors allowed to go to grocery stores would be those recently tested negative for the COVID-19 virus, or those who have successfully finished quarantine. I don’t believe that vacation rentals will or should be monitored. It’s the people that should be. At the airport and inter island port Kauai public health authorities could issue two types of time / date stamped visitor cards: those requiring 14 day self quarantine or a passed the recent test card. It’s that simple.


  2. Kathy Deutsch June 29, 2020 7:02 am Reply

    Mahalo for a great letter.

    We have always used legal vacation rentals. They are clean, they allow us to cook and do laundry. They allow us peace and quiet. I am physically unable to eat out 3 times a day. We buy local ingredients and cook.

    We try hard to be good guests of Hawaii. And we purchase local goods to ship back as gifts. The USPS shop chuckles every time we come through the doors with more boxes than the day before.

    The cleaning services do a great job. I never have had a concern, from our first trip in 1999 until now.

  3. Doug June 29, 2020 10:40 am Reply

    One more point on short term vacation rentals that I do not see here……..they can not track the movement of their guests like hotels can. They can not give a one time entry key to the room for quarantine. As long as quarantine exists, they must stay closed.

    1. kauaiboy June 29, 2020 11:52 am Reply

      Not to worry, Doug. The National Guard and police check up on those arriving with a mandated quarantine. After July 31, we can expect 95% of arrivals to escape a quarantine by getting a negative Covid-19 test within 72 hours of their flight.

      And Carey, those who choose to stay in a hotel and eat every meal out and have housekeeping clean up their room and talk with a concierge and a tour bus driver, etc. etc etc, pose an equal, if not greater risk, for hotel employees, restaurant employees, and locals.

      A greater portion of travelers taking road trips on the mainland are choosing to stay at vacation rentals, NOT at hotels, where they would have difficulty staying safely social distanced. It is a smarter way to travel and a smarter, more locally profitable, way to host guests.

    2. Ohana June 29, 2020 1:13 pm Reply

      Mahalo! We need to protect elders, respect the limited medical facilities on isle, and strengthen local economy.

  4. rk669 June 29, 2020 11:28 am Reply

    Some people’s Hair still on Fire, if your Hair is on Fire Stay Locked up at Home! Most rational people cannot comprehend the Fear you are Imagining!

  5. WAVE June 29, 2020 3:18 pm Reply


  6. Norm Smith June 29, 2020 5:01 pm Reply

    Tourism is like oil…. Quit using it and it will no longer be a problem. Time to provide jobs that don’t depend on it to survive… Take a close look at your leaders… and what they support

  7. Kauai Jim June 29, 2020 5:46 pm Reply

    Very well stated. Vacation rentals are much safer than hotels and bring much more to the economy than hotels.

    Allowing hotels but not vacation rentals made absolutely no sense.

    Fortunately in August things can open up again and we can be on our road to recovery

  8. Manawai June 29, 2020 5:46 pm Reply

    If people have to test negatively within 72 hours of their flight here, the chances of them becoming infectious are manini and they probably caught it here.

  9. Lawaibob June 29, 2020 9:21 pm Reply

    Money from vacation rentals goes to their out of state owners. You’re leaving out the fact that cases are spiking everywhere too. It’s too soon.

    1. Loladog June 30, 2020 2:08 pm Reply

      Money from vacation rentals goes to local rental mangers, cleaning services, state taxes, florists, restaurants, grocery stores, gas stations, car rentals, et cetera. It supports the local economy, Lawaibob.

  10. nobody June 30, 2020 7:39 am Reply

    Vacation rentals do pose a risk with visitors breaking the quarantine. That will soon be over when all visitors are pre tested.
    When the $600 handout from the Federal government ends we’ll need all the business from tourism we can get. Some people who have dodged employers to get the $600 are going to be left without a chair.
    Careful for what you wish for and the unintended consequences.

  11. manawai June 30, 2020 2:42 pm Reply

    @Norm Smith June 29, 2020 5:01 pm
    What jobs are you talking about? Do you have a magic wand or something to create jobs where there are no employers to hire people? Dreamland! Puff, Puff!

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