As spring has turned to summer and fall is now on the horizon, it’s been a difficult number of months for everyone.
The coronavirus pandemic has forced Hawai‘i and its residents to recalibrate, rethink, and refocus much of our energy toward constructively outlining a plan that will keep our communities afloat amidst continued uncertainty. Such efforts have proven fruitful as the mayor of Kaua‘i recently announced the signing of a memorandum of understanding that formalizes a partnership with Expedia Group to assist Kaua‘i with enforcement of its vacation-rental law.
The agreement allows the county to more effectively regulate vacation rentals while simultaneously protecting the rights of responsible short-term-rental owners. It’s a historic achievement and an announcement that I welcome wholly and with open arms.
Over the years, tourism has become the lifeblood of Hawai‘i’s economy, and nearly 200,000 people in the islands are employed by the industry. Moreover, tourism accounts for at least 17% of the state’s total gross domestic product, and perhaps much more when the trickle-down from tourist-related income is considered. Of course, we need to work together to reassess how our economy is structured to work toward becoming more balanced and less dependant upon one segment for our survival.
The recently-signed MOU has come at a time when we need it most. This unprecedented action is the first voluntary agreement between a platform and a county in Hawai‘i offering assistance in compliance with an underlying law. The MOU is designed to allow the county to more-effectively track and regulate vacation rentals while protecting the ability of responsible vacation-rental operators in Kaua‘i County to welcome traveling families.
As an owner and operator of a unique homestay experience, I have had a front-row seat to the impact that the pandemic has had on the travel and short-term rental communities. But with change often comes innovation. My homestay is located on 7.6 acres of pristine agricultural land on the North Shore of Kaua‘i, and income from travelers has helped us to maintain our working farm and make ends meet.
As the local travel industry has adjusted to COVID-19, we have as well. We have temporarily welcomed long-term renters to stay at our “Twin Hearts” cottage at competitive rates. However, the reduced amount of income from our cottage jeopardizes our farm’s viability.
When Kaua‘i re-opens for visitors, which is inevitable eventually if we are to maintain a reasonable standard of living for our resident community, consider this: More so than any traditional hotel experience, our vacation rentals will be the safest and most secure way to enjoy a Kaua‘i getaway, as we oversee every aspect of the sanitation process to ensure that our guests will have the most relaxing and carefree experience.
Vacation rentals, now and previously, are one of the safest accommodation options. Not only are they adopting enhanced cleaning protocols developed by VRBO and the Vacation Rental Management Association, but they also facilitate a level of social distancing that is simply not possible with a traditional hotel experience.
Our cottage, within walking distance to one of the islands most beautiful beaches, is self-contained, and provides the needs required of those on vacation. And unlike most hotel chains, the earnings generated from short-term-rental properties benefit the local communities and constituents, and not the pockets of corporate boardrooms.
I warmly welcome Mayor Kawakami’s announcement and MOU. Because of the state and county’s early shutdown and the important 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 should hopefully be in a position soon to start safely reopening to travelers.
As a proud resident of the island of Kaua‘i, I am lucky to be a farmer, as well as work in an industry that allows travelers and tourists from around the world to experience the beauty and wonder of our home and of these islands.
The aloha culture, our pristine beaches, and unique aloha spirit are all emblematic of a larger cultural heritage and experience — a heritage and experience that people actively seek out.
And it is with great pride that I am able to offer a small sampling of the aforementioned experience. The vacation-rental community is now prepared to meet and exceed the expectations outlined by the government and public-health officials. And I thank Kawakami and Expedia Group for acting and understanding tourism’s necessity for this community and our state at large
Bruce Fehring is a Kilauea resident and has lived on Kaua‘i for over 30 years.