LIHU‘E — According to a recent survey of Kaua‘i businesses, 49% of respondents stated that their business will not survive more than 90 days without the significant return of tourism.
Results of the survey, conducted by the Kaua‘i Chamber of Commerce and the Hawai‘i Lodging &Tourism Association, Kaua‘i Chapter, were released last week. Survey respondents represent over 4,000 furloughed employees who will lose employer-provided health insurance in the upcoming months.
Additionally, 91% of companies responding indicate they will not be able to provide health insurance for furloughed employees if nothing changes in the next 30 to 90 days.
“Prioritizing the health and safety of our community is everyone’s top concern,” Chamber President Mark Perriello said in a press release. “However, our government leaders must take steps to stimulate economic recovery so that our family and friends can all afford to put food on their plates and keep a roof over their heads.”
Travel to Kaua‘i plummeted after Mayor Derek Kawakami opted out of the state’s Safe Travels program Dec. 2, requiring all travelers to the island to undergo a mandatory 10-day quarantine with no option to test out.
The island changed course and permitted participation in Hawai‘i Safe Travels beginning Jan. 5 and introduced its own trans-Pacific entry program.
Options regarding testing and quarantine at resorts have been difficult to explain and harder to sell to potential visitors, said Mufi Hannemann, president of the Hawai‘i Lodging &Tourism Association.
While the island’s unemployment rate stood at 13.5% in November 2020, the unemployment rate amongst businesses responding to the survey is 90%.
Activity companies and retailers have furloughed 92% and 73% of their employee bases, respectively.
“We all want to safeguard the health and wellbeing of our employees and everyone who calls Kaua‘i home,” HLTA-Kaua‘i President Marc Bennor said in a statement. “In addition to protecting our residents from COVID-19, that means ensuring basic human needs such as food, housing and health care are also considered.”
The survey, conducted in mid-December, reveals deep concerns by employers about their ability to keep their businesses open and their employees at work unless visitor numbers increase. The survey generated more than 100 responses from small businesses to large corporations, and from industries spanning lodging to agriculture.
Hannemann said he is hopeful the mayor will “amend travel directives without compromising his healthy objectives if the current economic downturn worsens.”
Kawakami last week said that during the pandemic there are consequences to every decision, and “most definitely, some of our policy calls have impacted the visitor industry and our economy negatively.”
But those policies also “made an impact as far as keeping this island healthy and safe and avoiding large outbreaks that overwhelmed our hospitals,” Kawakami said. “They’ve certainly played a part in maintaining very low positivity rates.”
The current state of tourism on Kaua‘i impacts everyone, from the large employee base of our island’s hotels to the mom-and-pop businesses and sole proprietors who rely on a thriving economy for their income, the press release said.
The Chamber has over 400 Kaua‘i businesses and organizations among its members.
As representatives of Kaua‘i’s largest employer group and greatest tax-revenue-generator, HLTA-Kaua‘i Chapter’s primary objective is to keep members, communities, and businesses informed, educated and involved in all aspects of the visitor industry and community.
The Associated Press contributed to this brief.