Kaua‘i resorts hope to bounce back from COVID-19 pandemic

  • Courtesy Timbers Resorts, Hokuala Hokuala, a Timbers Resort closed at the end of March amid COVID-19 fears and tourism lockdowns leaving 180 employees out of work. The July 1 reopening of the property's resort, restaurant and golf course already has reopened and Timbers is near full staff with 146 employees now returning.

  • Photo courtesy of Timbers Resort

    Hualani Executive Chef Zach Cummings (left) poses with farmer Cody Meyers (right), at the the farm at Hokuala at the resort’s vegetable garden.

  • Photo courtesy of Ko‘a Kea Hotel

    Ko‘a Kea Hotel & Resort has made numerous changes to operations across the property in order to reassure guests that their stay will be safe and healthy. The property also went through a rigorous process to become an approved Enhanced Movement Quarantine (EMQ) “resort bubble” hotel.

Hokuala Resort at Timbers Managing Director Gary Moore is reporting an increase in the occupancy of the luxury resort since the start of January.

At the beginning of 2021, Moore stated the resort saw the occupancy rate increase from 30% to 45%.

According to Moore, Timbers anticipates they will be at full occupancy by April because customers typically book their stays 90-120 days in advance. Timbers has both time-shared condos for residents, and year-round residential options for clients.

The resort is now close to returning to a full staff with 146 currently on board.

Timbers, one of only eight Resort Bubbles, also known as Enhanced Movement Quarantine (EMQ) Bubbles, in which travelers to the island are allowed to stay in approved accomidations upon receiving a pre-travel test. Movements are monitored with bracelets that keep the wearer within the property. Timbers worked closely with Mayor Derek Kawakami and his administration as well as Kaua‘i Visitors Bureau to help kick-start the EMQ program.

“We are starting to gain some positive momentum, and that is very encouraging,” Moore said.

A slow return to normalcy

Timbers and other luxury Kaua‘i resorts are working on becoming fully operational.

Timbers plans on hosting a total of 30 golf events for the year 2021, and Moore credits golfing and their local Hualani Restaurant for carrying them through the first, second and third waves of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In 2019 they hosted 74 golf events and in 2020 they hosted 44.

“Golfing and the restaurant have been huge and really important, and always will be important,” Moore said.

Pending a successful COVID-19 vaccine distribution plan and containment of the COVID-19 variants, a return to normalcy could be on the horizon for several companies.

JP Parrish, the owner of Parrish Kaua‘i Vacation Rentals, is still in the process of navigating a new economic landscape.

“It remains to be seen what normal will be for the travel and tourism industry,” Parrish said.

According to Parrish, the industry is still struggling.

“There are certain aspects of the business that are picking up, but I have not been able to increase hours for certain departments,” Parrish said.

Parrish said he still plans on bringing back more of his staff to full-time status, but that is not a current reality.

The company has been operating in what they refer to as “hovering mode”.

According to Parrish, the core staff is working steadily, and they are rotating in as many people as they can part-time to support their operations since they are over 40% occupied with paying guests, long-term tenants and owners.

“Given the current environment, I am not expecting to be fully operational or able to bring back all my staff until later this year,” Parrish said. “We are not yet at our pre-pandemic levels.”

Parrish said his company Parrish Kaua‘i, LLC has remained consistent over the last few months. He expects the occupancy to be maintained at approximately 40%.

“The summer months is where I see a pick-up in occupancy, and then more in the latter part of this year growing higher based on success,” Parrish said. “This is due to containing COVID and a related restoration of confidence in travel.”

Like Parrish Kaua‘i Properties, the Ko‘a Kea Hotel & Resort has made numerous changes to operations across the property to reassure guests that their stay will be safe and healthy, according to manager Sharolyn Kawakami.

The property went through a rigorous process to become an approved EMQ property.

“Occupancy and reservations have increased since mid-Jan. when we were allowed to offer the resort bubble option versus the 10-day quarantine, but we have a long way to go,” Kawakami said.

The Ko‘a Kea Hotel & Resort spokesperson said it’s been a struggle for the staff.

“Financially, it has not been easy, but we remain open because we believe we have a responsibility to serving our guests, our community and our team members,” Kawakami said.

Learning the rules

The Ko‘a Kea Hotel & Resort has stated one of the challenges they continue to see is with their guests learning the rules.

According to the Kawakami, guests are required to wear wristbands as well as be connected to their smartphone to remain compliant with the EMQ requirements.

The hotel said they’ve reported no arrest due to COVID-19 violations, but the restrictions make some of their guests hesitant, Kawakami said.

The Ko‘a Kea Hotel & Resort occupancy is slowly improving but many guests are still waiting to visit until the later part of 2021 in hopes of being vaccinated before traveling.

According to Moore, the new COVID-19 rules are clear to Timbers’ guest.

“The staff at Timbers Kaua‘i start guests with their website and contact each guest once their reservation is confirmed to ensure they understand the new protocols and what to expect with the EMQ,” Moore said. “Personal phone calls are also made for visitors and guests who are inquiring and contemplating their vacations.”

Parrish emphasized the importance of the travel and tourism industry as his company tries to tread back into normalcy.

“Travel and tourism are some of the world’s most important industries and Hawai‘i is a case-in-point,” Parrish said. “I am confident that our industry and government at all levels will continue the close working partnership that is required to restore the viability of our industry and our economy.”


Jason Blasco, reporter, can be reached at 245-0437 or jblasco@thegardenisland.com.

  1. randy kansas February 21, 2021 6:50 am Reply

    has anyone had the flu yet this year ? have not heard about the numbers or deaths from the flu…3,000,000 per year, yes per year….die from smoke inhalation…

  2. kauaiboy February 21, 2021 8:44 am Reply

    Good for you, Timbers and Ko‘a Kea Hotel & Resort! Mayor Kawakami has arranged a “Bubble Resort” plan that allows you to house new arrivals to the island who are wealthy enough to pay your exorbitant rates. Wonderful for yourselves and, hopefully, your well-paid employees!

    Now, about the rest of us: We own small businesses and accommodations that are dead in the water. What about us? There are not enough tourists free on island to support our livelihoods and that of OUR employees. We are going under.

    Is everyone ready for a Kauai where only large corporations, and their employees, benefit from tourism on island? Are you ready for the demise of small, unique entrepreneurs? Are you ready for the commercial sector to look like Waikiki on Oahu or Wailea on Maui?

    Mayor Kawakami: Are you saying to the small business owners “Let them eat golf balls?”

    Drop the “Resort Bubble” fiasco and open Kauai up to the Safe Travels program being conducted all over the state except for “only the rich may apply” Kauai.

  3. JT February 21, 2021 6:13 pm Reply

    So Koakeais run by a Kawakami. What a huge surprise!

  4. I saw a Vampire once February 21, 2021 8:53 pm Reply

    Not that interested in seeing Kaua’i get back on its feet to put things in metaphoric terms. To be honest, I’m going to side in with Molly Jones on the issue of finances too. I know she give out lots of pandemic pop quizes already. She’s for the medical degree. So I am publicly well not my name until I can guarantee my car, but come out and say it. Screw the tourist industry and the other industry. I like it here. And I think I can make a go at being a commenter. And hey I might add a pretty darn good job at where ever I land in the medical field. Just so I can screw that athletics dept. always trying to one up me on this propaganda thing and placing it on politics. They really suck and I’m sick of them in the public trying to make a difference. So that is that.

    1. Jason February 24, 2021 3:53 pm Reply

      We stayed at the Koa Kea last week.

      We were not a part of “the bubble” as we spent three days on Oahu and tested prior to flying to Kauai.

      The service was outstanding and the staff couldn’t have been more accommodating

      Other guests we spoke to who were a part of the EMQ were happy with their stays as well but frustrated with the extra precautions taken by Kauai.

      The resorts on either sides were closed which is bizarre but Kauai is still beautiful and the Koa Kea is a great resort.

  5. Erik February 22, 2021 5:38 am Reply

    Stop painting a false picture that somehow Kauai is returning to normalcy when it comes to tourism. Taking one bubble golf resort example and trying to pretend like things are normal. The Mayor is a joke and has no concept of risk vs. reward. You, the author, should be ashamed of yourself, to use one single example (OUTLIER) and mislead people on the country. No ones coming to Kauai … tourists coming inland are at roughly 20% the normal rate for the month of February. Do some research.

  6. Mailman Mike February 22, 2021 11:21 am Reply

    We survived 2 hurricanes. We will survive this.

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