Some Hawaii Hotels Concerned About Quarantine Enforcement

May 14, 2020

Some Hawaii hotels say they need more guidance about how to enforce a 14-day quarantine on travelers, including what to do if guests refuse to comply or how to participate if they still use physical keys instead of cards.

The Hawaii Tourism and Lodging Association recently asked hotels to give out room key-cards that are only good for checking in, so that if a guest leaves the room, they need a new one to re-enter — signaling to hotel staff that a guest defied the quarantine.

Gov. David Ige mandated the traveler quarantine starting on March 26 in an attempt to curb the spread of coronavirus. As of Wednesday, the state reported 638 coronavirus cases and 17 deaths.

Some visitors who allegedly violated the quarantine have been arrested.

According to the tourism authority, 264 visitors arrived in Hawaii Tuesday. During the same time last year, about 30,000 passengers would arrive in the tourism-dependent state daily.

When travelers arrive, officials verify their accommodation arrangements by contacting hotels directly and giving them a heads-up that a visitor has arrived. Call center workers from the Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau and the Hawaii Tourism Authority follow-up numerous times to verify travelers are in quarantine. When call center workers can’t contact someone, they alert law enforcement.

Of 91 open hotels contacted last week, 63 are complying with the room key program, according to a tourism report presented to the state Senate Special Committe on COVID-19. Four were listed as “declined” and 24 as “pending.”

Updated results showed 84 out of 89 hotels complying, Mufi Hannemann, president and CEO of the Hawaii Tourism and Lodging Association, said Wednesday. Two properties were inadvertently contacted the first time around, he said, and one was still listed as “pending.”

The Grand Naniloa Hotel in Hilo is one of four hotels that told tourism officials they declined to participate in the room key protocol.

“They support the overall initiative, however, they are not getting the calls from the airport promptly,” the survey said, which includes notes from conversations between hotel staff and the tourism and lodging association.

A hotel official told the association that in many cases, they aren't notified about an arriving guest until after the guest has already checked in.

The hotel official also noted that law enforcement is only giving a warning and that enforcement falls back on the hotel. Three people at the hotel were recently arrested for allegedly violating the quarantine.

“The hotel is currently short-staffed and cannot be policing everyone that comes in,” the survey said. “They would need to know who is under the mandatory quarantine.”

Hotel officials didn't immediately respond to requests to elaborate on why the hotel declined to participate in the room key protocol.

In response to the hotel's concern about law enforcement, Alan Richmond, a spokesman for the Hawaii Police Department, said in a statement that the Hawaii Tourism Authority routes issues about visitors not responding to verification calls to Hawaii County Civil Defense.

“Police are notified and provided with the request for assistance from Civil Defense and in response our officers have conducted the physical follow up checks,” he said. “Likewise if hotel staff have concerns that guests are not abiding by the quarantine requirements they can contact HPD directly and an officer will be assigned to conduct a documented check (and take necessary action if a violations is determined).”

Hannemann noted one hotel — the Outrigger Waikiki Beach Resort — began limiting room key access on their own when the quarantine began.

Some hotels said they need more guidance, including what to do if guests refuse to comply. Other hotels said they can't participate because they have traditional, physical keys. One hotel reported it uses a code. Guests are let into the room but not given the code.