HONOLULU — A resort in the famed tourist mecca of Waikiki will be the first in Hawaii to require proof of COVID-19 vaccination for all employees and guests.
Starting Oct. 15, 'Alohilani Resort will require its employees, patrons and guests to show proof they're fully vaccinated. The requirement will also apply to the six other Waikiki properties owned or operated by Highgate, a real estate investment and hospitality management company.
It's the right thing to do as Hawaii grapples with a surge in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations because of the highly contagious delta variant, said Kelly Sanders, senior vice president of operations at Highgate Hawaii.
There were an average of 706 newly confirmed infection cases per day across Hawaii between Aug. 30 and Sept. 5, according to the state Department of Health. Hawaii's vaccination rate was nearly 76% for those 12 and older. Children 11 or younger are not yet eligible for the shot.
"So I think we will be the safest hotel in Hawaii, at least for now," Sanders said ahead of a news conference Wednesday to announce the mandate. "And hopefully that helps our business and doesn't hurt our business."
John De Fries, president and CEO of the Hawaii Tourism Authority, called the move a step in a the right direction and said he hopes other hotels follow suit.
"What I appreciate about it is that our community, our workforce and the guests are all mutual beneficiaries of this decision by Highgate," he said. "And I anticipate that it will receive much attention from others in the industry."
Hawaii state workers and Honolulu city employees must show proof of vaccination or get weekly COVID-19 testing. Honolulu is requiring patrons of restaurants, gyms, bars, movie theaters, museums and other businesses to show vaccination proof or recent negative tests starting Sept. 13.
Sanders said the Waikiki hotels won't allow testing alternatives, but will allow for medical or religious exemptions and will exempt children younger than 12.
"We want to create an environment where everybody feels comfortable coming to work," Sanders said. "And I don't think you can do that from an employee standpoint unless you're requiring all your patrons and your guests to do the same, to be honest."
There are about 1,000 employees among the seven properties and an estimated 80% are already vaccinated, Sanders said.
Highgate's decision on vaccinations comes as Hawaii's tourism-dependent economy is trying to rebound from earlier in the pandemic when the state imposed a mandatory quarantine on all incoming travelers.
Travelers can now bypass quarantine by showing proof of vaccination. Others must have negative test results before their departures to Hawaii to avoid the 10-day quarantine.
As of 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 as to what is expected of you when you get here, for your own wellbeing as a traveler and out of respect for the community that you're visiting and the work environment … you will be residing in," De Fries said.