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Latest Oʻahu guidelines give more hope to events industry, but business will take time to recover

Hawaii Events Coalition Oahu Weddings Association.jpg
Casey Harlow
/
HPR
Dozens of event and wedding planners and workers gathered outside the State Capitol and Honolulu Hale on Thursday, Oct. 7, 2021. They called for restrictions to be eased to allow professional events to continue to operate.

Gov. David Ige and Honolulu Mayor Rick Blangiardi announced last Friday new guidelines for "managed events."

Starting Wednesday, spectators have been allowed to watch outdoor sporting events with certain restrictions in place.

New guidelines for indoor entertainment events, such as concerts and indoor sports, and outdoor interactive events, such as weddings and funerals, will go into effect on Wednesday, Oct. 20.

Blangiardi was pleased to announce fans can return in the stands for games, but acknowledged there are concerns and challenges for events such as weddings and funerals.

"We understand the dynamics of those events, and so we want to be able to allow for food, we want to allow people to mingle," he said. "We want these events, on an outdoor basis, to be as close to respectful and normal, and the right context as they can be."

Last week, dozens of event planners and workers rallied outside of Honolulu and the State Capitol, calling for structured events, such as weddings, to be allowed.

In late August, the city re-implemented its social gathering restrictions of 10 people indoors and 25 outdoors. This not only affected family and other social gatherings, but also the events industry.

For event companies, the restrictions set back their recovery.

"Just in the last six weeks or so, it's in the millions of dollars that we've lost," said Heather Baily, vice president of MC&A — a local events management company.

While the restrictions were originally set to expire in September, Blangiardi extended them until Oct. 19. Those restrictions on social gatherings still remain in place until that time.

Bailey says her company and the events industry saw more and more people cancel or change their plans due to the uncertainty of whether restrictions will remain in place or be lifted in time of their event.

She says her company has seen more business go to other islands in the state because there was more flexibility to hold events.

But Friday's announcement gave Oʻahu businesses hope they can operate going forward.

Under the new guidelines, up to 150 people or 50% venue capacity will be allowed to attend, attendees must be vaccinated, but staff can also provide a negative COVID test result. Masked mingling will be allowed, but a mitigation plan must be submitted to the city.

But despite the new guidelines, Bailey says their industry won't recover anytime soon, since it takes weeks or months to plan an event.

She adds she's still concerned because Ige hasn't detailed any specific metrics he's looking at when it comes to easing or re-implementing restrictions. Earlier this month, Ige extended the emergency proclamation, mandating the state's COVID safety measures remain in place, until the end of November.

"It did raise concern with a lot of clients that things could and would change on a dime," Bailey said. "And if they were to plan and bring their programs here, that what they're planning for now wouldn't be what would happen tomorrow, and not in their favor."

For now, event businesses on Oʻahu are pleased to have guidelines to operate. But Blangiardi says the city will be closely monitoring organized events for COVID clusters or outbreaks.

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