Waikiki Resort mandates vaccination for workers and guests

A Waikiki resort will be the first in Hawai’i to require proof of COVID-19 vaccination for all employees and guests.

From October 15, ‘Alohilani Resort will require its employees, clients and guests to prove that they are fully immunized. The requirement will also apply to the other six Waikiki properties owned or operated by Highgate, a real estate investment and hotel management company.

It’s the right thing to do as Hawaii grapples with an increase in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations due to the highly contagious delta variant, said Kelly Sanders, senior vice president of operations at Highgate Hawaii .

There were an average of 706 newly confirmed cases of infection per day in Hawaii between August 30 and September 5, according to the State Department of Health. Hawai’i’s vaccination rate was almost 76% for ages 12 and older. Children 11 and under are not yet eligible for shooting.

“So I think we’re going to be the safest hotel in Hawaii, at least for now,” Sanders said ahead of a press conference Wednesday to announce the mandate. “And I hope it helps our business and doesn’t hurt our business.”

John De Fries, chairman and CEO of the Hawaii Tourism Authority, called the move a step in the right direction and said he hoped other hotels would follow suit.

“What I appreciate about this is that our community, our workforce and the guests are all mutual beneficiaries of this Highgate decision,” he said. “And I anticipate it will receive a lot of attention from other players in the industry.”

Employees in the State of Hawaii and employees in the City of Honolulu must show proof of vaccination or undergo a weekly COVID-19 test. Honolulu requires customers at restaurants, gyms, bars, cinemas, museums and other businesses to show proof of recent vaccination or negative tests from September 13.

Sanders said hotels in Waikiki would not allow testing of alternatives, but would allow medical or religious exemptions and exempt children under 12.

“We want to create an environment where everyone feels comfortable coming to work,” Sanders said. “And I don’t think you can do that from an employee perspective unless you require all of your customers and guests to do the same, to be honest.”

There are about 1,000 employees among the seven properties and about 80% are already vaccinated, Sanders said.

Highgate’s decision on vaccinations comes as Hawaii’s tourism-dependent economy attempts to rebound from the onset of the pandemic when the state imposed a mandatory quarantine on all inbound travelers.

Travelers can now bypass quarantine by showing proof of vaccination. Others must have negative test results before they leave for Hawai’i to avoid the 10-day quarantine.

At the end of last month, about 75% of visitors provided vaccination cards, said John Monahan, president and CEO of the Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau.

The move sets “a high standard for what is expected of you when you arrive here, for your own well-being as a traveler and out of respect for the community you are visiting and the work environment … you will be residing in, said De Fries.

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