Government and Businesses at Loggerheads on Reopening Tourism

Over 200 business owners gathered this week at Vidinha Stadium in Lihue, sharing their struggles, asking for transparency from county officials, and wanting a date when tourism will reopen. Many of those attending are personal friends who are struggling with little to no income and enormous debt. This is on an island with only 2 active COVID cases (as of February 19) and a mayor touting that after-school sports can continue.

Kauai business owners who had been successful before the shutdown have already either succumbed to the financial crisis or are about to. Even giant businesses, such as the Grand Hyatt Kauai, cannot reopen and noted that employee unemployment benefits are about to expire including health insurance.

Those attending the meeting complained about the lack of specific information emanating from the Mayor and County Council on the basis for reopening. It has become impossible for business owners to plan. One person we talked with shared that another three months without income will simply not cut it.

Yesterday the mayor said businesses should take advantage of PPP and other federal government loans and opportunities. But some business owners said they cannot add more debt with the uncertainty of reopening.

Kawakami yesterday promoted the ability to have after-school sports continue but didn’t address a huge percentage of Kauai-based businesses going under that will never return. The mayor continues to receive his salary estimated at $132k. To our knowledge, no councilperson or the mayor has offered not to take their salary during this crisis.

Some Kauai County Council members also attended the meeting. They conveyed their concern while each receives a salary of over $60k annually. Former mayor Bernard Carvalho who serves on the council and was at the event, said, “Businesses are hurting…We did speak with the mayor…They have a plan…It’s coming.” No further details were provided.

Today the Mayor signed his 7th supplementary emergency proclamation for COVID. As Michelle said on Facebook after reading the announcement: “So what did this proclamation do exactly? Sounds like a whole bunch of wordplay that basically amounts to…. nothing. No actual action plan. But gives them the ability to establish… a plan… eventually??? What?? Anyone else confused. Seems like BS.”

This morning, many comments addressed the seriousness of the situation.

George: I am a permanent resident of Kauai. Poipu Shopping center is near my residence. 75-85% of the businesses and restaurants are closed. Several will probably never reopen. The mayor’s policies are killing local business owners. Hawaii needs one set of rules for all islands.

Chris: In contrast, “Maui transpacific arrivals averaged 3,443 per day during the same period which ended February 17, 2021.” 30 people have died on Maui, 1 has died on Kauai. About 10x the number per capita. Prior to re-opening with a single test requirement, there were very few cases on Maui as well. You’re presenting a consistent view of this but failing to fairly present the views of both sides here. The mayor of Kauai is not on some sort of power trip and is not trying to kill the tourist industry. There would be a clear cost (measured in lives) to fully re-opening now, as nearly every legitimate public health official has stated here.

John: I canceled a trip planned for November 2020 and moved to May 2021 – I have canceled that trip. I understand the local push back on opening up Kauai over concerns with Covid. The hard reality is that the majority of the local economy is based on tourism. Without visitors, there is no feasible way that the local population can drive a recovery. I also understand the local desire to limit tourism in the future. But the way it looks at this time, the entire economy is going to fail. I have made many friends during my many visits to Kauai and feel for each of those folks. I look forward to returning to Kauai, but it will not be anytime soon.

Marjorie: The mayor is rogue. He is destroying the heart and soul of Kauai. The small mom-and-pop businesses are quickly closing as they cannot live without tourism. It is sad and disgusting. He again is still penalizing owners by not allowing them to 3-day quarantine in their own homes and then test out after 72 hours. Disgusting. He is doing nothing for the people of Kauai except fabricate fear. He is making tourists not want to go to Kauai, and he is teaching the rich on Kauai to be rude and nasty to the tourists that do end up going.

Archer: I hope Mayor Kawakami gets what he asked for (i.e., budget cuts, furloughs, food insecurity, homelessness). We are canceling our fourth planned trip to Kauai…we are vaccinated, and the world is our oyster…except Kauai. Your elderly are vaccinated and protected; now, what’s your excuse? What are you going to do when the federal funds stop rolling in? How are you going to rebuild your economic infrastructure? Who will pay for those ICU beds when your uninsured outnumber your insured? Nothing Kawakami does make any sense at all.

Archer: Did you read the other news today about increased property taxes on non-resident owners and decrease of taxes on Kauai income and businesses? Kawakami and Ige see a way out of this fiscal mess – they’re raising the property taxes of over 40% of Kauai homeowners. I’m really tired of paying for their poor decisions – it may be time to pull out our stakes and let the Kauai voters be accountable for their many bad choices.

56 thoughts on “Government and Businesses at Loggerheads on Reopening Tourism”

  1. Kauai is so small when do you foresee having 70% of the population vaccinated? Then will you open up Mr. Mayor?

  2. I wonder why the approach taken by college and university towns for safely returning students to campus and in-person instruction has not been considered. They are in many cases every bit as dependent on the students coming back as Kauai is on tourists coming in. The approach they’ve adopted is to dedicate a local hotel for quarantine service, at no added expense to the students who confine themselves to a room with only food service from a core of dedicated (fully vaccinated) employees pending receipt of a negative PCR test (also at no added expense to the students) – when that’s received, they are released and the local employees clean and sterilize for the next quarantining student. Not a great start for a vacation, but at least the added cost of a resort bubble stay and second test are not deterrents. Kauai has enough vacant hotels, so the need is on-island PCR testing capability – which they should prioritize anyway for the next pandemic (given we’ve had SARS, MERS and now COVID-19 in the last 20 yrs).

  3. This is so sad but you get what you vote for.
    i will bet the same people complaining will vote for the same elected officials.

  4. News about Kauai’s travel restrictions and the resulting destruction of our small businesses is now getting widely publicized outside Hawaii – not just by BOH (although you guys have by far the most insightful coverage). The report of the Feb 17 meeting of business owners at Vidinha Stadium has been republished in many online publications, including USA Today.

  5. I want to refrain from commenting because I have contributed many posts;but the sadness I feel is that Kauai’s elitist politicians and wealthy influencers have too much power now. This elitist Hawaii is not the Hawaii I love and knew-These islands are for everyone,how discriminatory to say it is only for the select few. “ Stay Safe” irritates me; life is about living, people,diversity. I am not a covid denier ,but now,we need to embrace travel-life,people,diversity-

  6. Isn’t it easy for the mainland people to complain about Kauai’s restrictions to limit the spread of covid? If other islands have rules more to your liking, why not visit there? The Kauai mayor’s biggest priority is to protect the health and safety of our residents. That correctly takes precedence over tourism. When Kauai joined the state Safe Travel program last fall, it didn’t work. We had a big spike in travel-related covid cases. The mayor has done and is doing a great job in a difficult environment. And regarding people here being immunized therefore safe, I am 72 years old and will not have an opportunity for a vaccination for several weeks, at best. Our hotel workers have not been vaccinated! We are not ready for an influx of visitors. And what is with complaints about the mayor and council members being paid for their work? We pay everyone who is working in the local government. Why not them? Would you work for free?

    1. What’s the rest of the world doing to survive? Kauai needs to Look outside it’s tiny box. There are ways to protected oneself beyond the vaccine. That doesn’t me to close yourself off and bury your head in the sand.

      There are two, “2” Covid cases on Kauai right now, just two! Sounds like the Mayor is spreading fear and paranoia. Why aren’t their more Vaccines available? That’s a great question….

      What did the Mayor do with those federal funds for Medical Upgrades went? That was supposed to help upgrade and support an oncoming Pandemic. Where was that misappropriated? Did he buy a new boat? Maybe, a Jetski or two?

      Their are thousands of people in your community with no jobs, no money, no food… Tourism is a major lifeline. We should be hearing… ‘Whatever it takes to open!’ Not nonsensical excuses. The major is not hurting for cash, but 1000’s have lost their jobs, businesses or going bankrupt. What happened to ‘the needs of the many outweigh, the needs of the few?’

      “WHEN” will Kauai be ready? That is the BIG question! When there is NO COVID left on the planet? That may never happen and if they wait that long, the only thing left in Kauai will be poverty.

      You’re right…. Tourists can go to other islands. Islands all over the world, that ARE open. Tourists can spend their money and support OTHER economies. Apparently, it’s OK…?

    2. The question is where does the money to pay the Mayor and council members coming from? From the real estate taxes imposed on the businesses they are not allowing to operate. Looks like it is OK for you to have people and businesses suffer from lack of income for their families so that you can run around unprotected? Keep in mind that the workers in resort bubbles are not vaccinated and outsiders are free to come and go into the resort bubbles. So the protection of hotel workers is not there. If there is an infected person they can spread it around very nicely.

    3. Kelly A

      In political jargon, a “Useful Idiot” is a derogatory term for a person perceived as propagandizing for a cause without fully comprehending the cause’s goals, and who is cynically used by the cause’s leaders.

      Seniors like yourself are being used as “Useful Idiots” to farther the plans of your elitist mayor, county council members and those looking to profit from the pandemic.

      I’m watching this from a far it’s genius how Kauai’s mayor and his cronies are pulling this off. Create fear among the senior population to insure you remain in power to hatch your evil plans. It’s text book

  7. Look to Maui and the other islands to get guidance for Kaua’i…open up before it is too late to save all the businesses. The vaccinations are working and the covid numbers are decreasing. Time to stop the insanity of no tourists! Keep testing before and after arrival and that should work to keep everyone safe!!

    1. Maui is currently running neck and neck with Oahu for most new covid cases (with 1/5 of their population), they have been out of control since opening on October 15th. Maui is the poster child of why Green’s so called “safe travels program” does not work. We have also caught active covid cases in the bubble resorts here on Kauai, which is why the resort plan is working. And to tag onto what Kelly said, I am 66 years old and not scheduled to get even my first vaccine shot until mid to late March, let alone the second shot to fully protect me. And no, I refuse to hide in my home on my own island because people cannot follow the CDC’s guidelines and not travel. By the time we rejoin safe travels in May, all of the vulnerable seniors should be vaccinated, and that is what the Mayor is waiting for. Mayor Kawakami has my vote next time around, he’s doing a great job!

      1. -most folks commenting in support of keeping Kauai closed are elderly and retired-so I am I,worked in healthcare here for 37 years-here/-But ,do you not think of the young people,the boat crew,zip line leaders-etc-who love Kauai equally as much as us retired folks,and do you not have any sensitivity to the hardships they are enduring? Vulnerable , please self isolate and allow the young Kauai generation to live,thrive and move this island forward.

      2. OK…. so it’s a numbers game? Fine.

        Current number of new COVID cases and existing:

        Hawaii County: 2,232 (4)
        Honolulu: 21,783 (32)
        Kauai: 180
        Maui: 2,027 (28)
        Lanai: 108
        Molokai: 26

        Maui Population of 168,307 and Oahu – 1,500,000. Maui has 10% of the Population of Oahu, not 1/5.

        Big Island Population 200,000.
        Kauai Population 72,543.
        Lanai Population 3,500.
        Molokai Population 7,345.

        Maui has had 1.5% of its populous infected with COVID.
        Oahu has had 1.4% of its populous infected with COVID.
        Hawaii has had 1.1% of its populous infected with COVID.
        Molokai has had 0.3% of its populous infected with COVID.
        Lanai has had 3% of its populous infected with COVID.

        KAUAI has had 0.2% of its populous infected with COVID!

        What do all these numbers mean?

        To start, Kauai has had the least number of COVID cases, even less that Molokai with only 0.2% of populous. Even though the other islands have had much larger percent of their populous infected, they are more readily accessible to tourists and their numbers are not soaring.

        Vaccines are coming…. Kauai’s numbers are extremely low. Others islands are making the COVID testing work…

        SO, the question is… What is Kauai’s problem?? Why can’t they capitulate?

        The world is waiting for an answer. A logical answer.

        If you think your mayor is doing a great job, look at your community, look at the real numbers… Look at reality. If you’re safe, financially solid and happy with your current situation, good for you. But, that’s NOT what’s going on around you.

    1. I’m assuming you’re joking…. 😉

      Just in case. Vaccine covers almost 100% of Variant COVIDS. At least, provides protection from serious symptoms on the South African version. Meaning, a flu like symptom. BUT IGNORE THAT!!!! JUST focus on the part that spreads the most fear, because that will put food on your tables and money in your pockets..

      1. Yeah it was a joke.. Because after these variants excuses are used up, the ” next variant” will be ready to be the lockdown excuse.

  8. The rumors of a tax on non-resident owners, presumably to include time-share owners, is yet another reason to pull up stakes on Kauai and try another island. Travel, including tourist travel, has plummeted because Kauai is closed and the end result is devastation for a tourist-based economy. By first keeping people out and then raising taxes on property they cannot visit does not seem a recipe for success. Kauai residents, these are the leaders you’ve chosen; are you happy with them?

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