Tourism in Kona, Hawaii, is the lifeblood of our economy. Hotels, restaurants, small retail, and all the businesses that are supported by them have had a significant part of their livelihood taken away from them since mid-March. Tour businesses and most hotels have had zero revenue, and most restaurants are operating at a fraction of their capacity.

This will all begin to change after October 15, when visitors and returning residents will be able to forgo a mandatory (though often ignored) 14-day quarantine if they have a negative COVID test within three days of departure. Hawaiian Airlines and United Airlines will have 15-minute COVID tests at some of their departure cities, and if people want to save some money, they can do a COVID at a CVS, Walgreens, or Kaiser location for less cost.

How will this change the game for small businesses in Hawaii?

  1. The “to open” or “not to open” discussion will move to the forefront. If businesses open right away, they will have high electricity costs, employee costs, and probably need to buy inventory. This can be very expensive and risky for a restaurant due to perishable inventory and high electric costs.
  1. The “bring back employees” or “not” discussion will be critical. A large hotel will only need a fraction of the staff–at least initially–that it would need during better times.
  1. Figuring out the right size for a business will be a challenge. How many vans should a tour company keep? Do you need the space you have? Now might be a good time to move to a better location. 
  1. What will be the optimal marketing plan? We know that the number of visitors will be low initially, so do you fight for a more significant piece of small pie or wait until that pie grows and accept a smaller portion?
  1. Would the business be stronger with a few pivots? There’s nothing like adversity to require a company to look into a mirror and reassess products, services, staffing, and overall direction. I know of several businesses that have developed new revenue streams during the pandemic. I expect these businesses to be even stronger in the future.

I’ve talked with tens of business leaders over the past few months, and, for the most part, they are looking forward to the resumption of travel. Some have given up and are resigned to what they see as their “fate,” but many, though anxious, believe that the worst is behind us and good choices, and the resumption of tourism will carry them forward into much better times.