As Vaccine Restrictions Lift, Hawaii Meetings and Incentives Heat Up

Hawaii meetings and incentives
Attendees have lots of opportunities to malama — give back — when meeting in Hawaii. Photo credit: Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) / Heather Goodman

By loosening its vaccine rules, Hawaii has eased one of the last remaining barriers for meetings and incentives to return to the Aloha State.

Hawaii has lifted the requirement that incoming travelers must either be vaccinated in that state or undergo a pre-trip COVID-19 test and quarantine. Now all travelers who are vaccinated in any U.S. state must do is upload proof of vaccination to the Hawaii Safe Travels website before they board the plane, clearing one of the last hurdles for meetings and incentives in the Aloha State. The change came about after Governor David Ige lowered the reopening requirement that Hawaii resident vaccination rates reach 60% to 57%.

Hawaii meetings and incentives
John Reyes, Senior Vice President and Chief MCI Sales Officer with Meet Hawaii

However, cautions John Reyes, Senior Vice President and Chief MCI Sales Officer with Meet Hawaii, attendees still must create a Safe Travels Hawai‘i online account at travel.hawaii.gov, including their trip information, and upload the required vaccination documentation to that account before they can enter the state, something that all too many visitors have been neglecting to do since the new rules went into effect on July 8. He added that all meeting and incentive planners should check for updates on the vaccination exception program, which are posted on Hawaii’s COVID-19 FAQs page, and ensure that all traveling to the meeting or event know what they have to do before they can disembark. He also recommended staying in close touch with Meet Hawaii and to regularly check the meethawaii.com site, which is updated when the rules change, as each of the Hawaiian Islands still have their own social distancing and other related COVID requirements in place. “You need to check island by island, and you need to ensure your attendees know the process,” he said.

While the pandemic restrictions to date, among the strictest in the U.S., have made planning meetings there more involved, he believes that “it has certainly paid off because people know that Hawaii is a safe destination.”

And now that the vaccination rules are eased, “We want everyone to know that we’re open for business,” Reyes said. “We’re fortunate in that Hawaii is still a domestic destination, but it still has an international attractiveness that attendees want.”

Aloha, Meetings and Incentives

Reyes said that the demand for incentives, as well as both corporate and association meetings, is coming back. “We’re seeing a strong demand for Hawaii meetings and incentives in Q4 of this year, and Q1 and Q2 of 2022,” he said. “We’re up about 12% in July 2021 over July 2020.” While the overall arrivals in the state are still about 25% lower than they were in 2019, Reyes said that’s mainly due to the continuing drop in visitors from Japan, who pre-pandemic comprised a hefty percentage of overall travelers to the state but to date are not yet traveling internationally.

One thing planners will notice is that the Hawaii DMO is shifting from a “destination marketing” focus to one more on “destination management,” he said — and that means more interest in increasing the state’s group business. “Hawaii has primarily been a leisure destination in the past, but now there’s a renewed interest by residents and our state legislators in the meetings, convention, and incentive business because of its structured, organized and professional nature. We want visitors to respect the land, the residents and the culture, and to give back as they come. This is a natural for group meetings as it fits in well with the trend toward groups participating in corporate social responsibility activities.”

To further this aim, Meet Hawaii recently launched a program called Malama. “As Hawaii shifts to destination management in post-pandemic world, the Hawaii Visitors & Convention Bureau is encouraging meeting, convention and incentive groups to embrace ‘malama’ as group meetings return to Hawaii as part of the aloha spirit to give back,” he said. To learn more about how to collaborate with local nonprofits and participate in volunteer give-back programs, visit https://www.gohawaii.com/malama.

“Hawaii is open. Hawaii is in demand for group meetings and incentives, but there is more of an expectation post-pandemic that meetings and incentives can enhance their experience and also strengthen the local community through Malama,” Reyes said.

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