The Hawai‘i Convention Center, the state’s temple to group tourism, now has about 1.1 million square feet of mostly unused space.
Hotels across the state are temporarily shuttering. The count was nearly 80 Wednesday and rising. Growing COVID-19 containment measures in Hawaii and elsewhere and the corresponding drop in tourism demand have temporarily turned the state’s tourism sites into ghost towns.
With a rigorous statewide visitor quarantine taking effect today on top of an already active stay-in-place order for residents, most of the state’s hotels are closing this week or next, leaving wide swaths of unoccupied space. That’s the opposite of what’s expected at the state’s hospitals and social service agencies, which fear that COVID-19 cases will overwhelm their facilities.
That’s why Hawaii Tourism Authority has extended help to the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency.
“The industry has offered support to the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency from employee resources to hotel repurposing. HI-EMA is also evaluating the Hawai‘i Convention Center for medical overflow options if needed,” HTA president and CEO Chris Tatum said in a letter sent Wednesday to industry leaders.
Tatum told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser that only about 20 or so HTA directors, who are part of a command center, are occupying space at the convention center, along with other essential staff such as maintenance and security.
“It’s dark at the convention center. Unless something changed dramatically, no one else is booking this year and most businesses book three to five years out. Most local stuff has been canceled through June,” he said. “We took HI-EMA on a tour of our facilities on Monday. We’re letting HI-EMA take the lead. We told them, ‘We are here. We will work to do whatever you need.’”
Shuttered hotels are taking up the mantle, too. A little more than a month ago, occupancy rates at most of these properties were running so high — nearly 85% statewide in February — it would have been difficult to get a room. By late February, demand had dropped significantly enough that discounted rooms were plentiful. At mid-March, most properties were running with lower than 20% occupancy — a benchmark for many to run closure scenarios.
If all Hawaii hotels closed, there would be approximately 42,863 empty hotel rooms spread across 148 properties. While some properties will stay open to handle essential travel needs, much of the state’s tourism infrastructure has lots of unoccupied space.
“We need to spend the next week and a half focusing on taking care of our employees and ceasing operations. But in terms of giving back we want to do that,” said Mufi Hannemann, president and CEO of the Hawaii Lodging & Tourism Association.
The plan to help is in its infancy, so players are still figuring out what’s on the table. So far Hannemann said discussions have ranged from using visitor industry space for emergency command centers, overflow medical space and places to put displaced people such as those under quarantine or who are homeless.
“We’re not necessarily closed to any opportunity to help our community,” Hannemann said. “There’s no shortage of hotels that want to help with some social purposes and community give-back.”
Still, Hannemann said a process needs to be put in place before any repurposing plans could move ahead.
“They can’t just walk through the door and say, ‘I’m here. May I check in?,’” Hannemann said. “There have to be steps involved. If it will involve our employees, we have to make sure their health and safety are protected.”
It’s already happening in places like New York, where the COVID-19 count is high. The city reportedly has contracts in place to convert hotel space into makeshift hospitals for non-COVID-19 patients and to quarantine people, including the homeless. The Javits Convention Center also has begun transforming into a hospital.
Jim Shon, a Hawaii state representative from 1984 to 1996, said he’d like to see similar action in Hawaii take place promptly with a focus on making use of the Hawai‘i Convention Center, the University of Hawaii’s Stan Sheriff Center, and other large unoccupied places.
“I hope it’s not a monthlong activity of the administration going back and forth,” Shon said. “Let’s start setting up now for what may come. HTA should say bring in the beds now. If we don’t need them great, but why wait until there’s a problem.”
“Clearly one of the bigger issues in Hawaii is that we have so few spare hospital beds,” said Shon, who was chairman of the state House health committee when HIV was a public health concern. “One of the first things to look at is where do we put other beds for non-acute care patients who still need care but can’t go home.”
“Obviously, you can’t just say let’s set up a cot in a gym and do an operation, but there may be a lot of other opportunities to serve people that had minor surgeries,” he said.
HOTEL CLOSURES MOUNT
The list of Hawaii hotels that have closed or will close this week rose to nearly 80 on Wednesday, almost doubling Tuesday’s count.
Aston Islander on the Beach
Aston Poipu Kai
Club Wyndham Bali Hai Villas
Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort & Spa
Hanalei Colony Resort
Kauai Marriott (hotel)
Pono Kai Condos
Sheraton Kauai Poipu (hotel)
Airport Honolulu Hotel
Aulani, A Disney Resort
Coconut Waikiki Hotel
Four Seasons Resort Oahu
Hilton Waikiki Beach
The Kahala Hotel & Resort
Ko Olina Resort
Ohana East by Outrigger
Paradise Bay Resort
The Ritz-Carlton Waikiki (rental program)
Turtle Bay Resort
Waikiki Beach Marriott
Waikiki Beachcomber by Outrigger
Waikiki Sand Villa
Westin Moana Surfrider
Fairmont Kea Lani
Four Seasons Maui
Hyatt Regency Maui Resort & Spa
Kaanapali Beach Hotel
Mama’a Fish House Restaurant & Inn
Maui Seaside Hotel
Montage Kapalua Bay
The Ritz-Carlton Kapalua
Royal Lahaina Resort
Wailea Beach Resort – Marriott
Four Seasons Lanai at Koele
Four Seasons Resort Lanai
Island of Hawaii
Aston Kona by the Sea
Aston Shores at Waikoloa
Aston Waikoloa Colony Villas
Auberge Mauna Lani
Bay House Bed & Breakfast
Courtyard King Kamehameha’s Kona Beach Hotel
Hawaii Island Retreat
Hilo Seaside Hotel
The Inn at Kulaniapa Falls
Kohala Village Inn
Kona Seaside Hotel
Lava Lava Beach Club
Mauna Kea Beach Hotel
Mauna Lani Point
Old Hawaiian B&B
The Palms Cliff House Inn
Royal Kona Resort
Waikoloa Beach Marriott (hotel and timeshare)
Waimea Gardens Cottage
Waipio Wayside Bed and Breakfast
Waikoloa Marriott (hotel)
Source: HTA and Star-Advertiser research