Navigating the Challenges of the Pandemic: Businesses in Honolulu Respond to Tier Changes

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Increased Capacity for Fitness and Recreation

As Honolulu relaxes operational restrictions for various businesses, fitness centers such as Yoga Room Hawaii can expand their capacity. The move to Tier 3 allows indoor fitness classes to accommodate up to nine students and a teacher, increasing the number of individuals receiving in-person instruction. This change enables Yoga Room to cater to approximately 450 students per week, significantly more than the previous capacity of 200.

Gradual Return to Business

While the capacity increase may appear incremental, it brings relief to businesses that have faced significant setbacks during the pandemic. Restaurants, for instance, can now operate at full capacity, adhering to social distancing guidelines. Arcades can increase their capacity to 50%, and retailers can operate without limitations.

Positive Impact on the Hospitality Sector

The hotel industry also welcomes the shift. Mufi Hannemann, President and CEO of the Hawaii Lodging and Tourism Association, acknowledges the change as “a step in the right direction.” The move to 100% capacity for restaurants with proper spacing between tables provides optimism for the convention and meeting industry, which has been severely impacted.

Focus on Vaccination

Despite the positive changes, Hannemann emphasizes the importance of vaccinating hotel industry workers. He supports Lt. Gov. Josh Green’s proposal to allow vaccinated travelers to avoid the 10-day quarantine requirement. Such measures aim to streamline travel and facilitate a return to normalcy.

Economic Challenges Persist

A recent survey conducted by the Chamber of Commerce Hawaii reveals the extent of economic hardship faced by businesses in Honolulu. Over two-thirds of respondents reported severe revenue losses, with an average decline of 45% in 2020 compared to 2019. The Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program has provided some mitigation, but businesses anticipate it will take approximately 16 months to recover.

Businesses Adapt to Circumstances

Organizations such as Yoga Room have successfully navigated the challenges by embracing virtual classes and implementing safety measures. Teachers and students have demonstrated patience and understanding in navigating the technology. The willingness to adapt has enabled many businesses to stay afloat.

The Impact on Waikiki

While certain areas of Honolulu show signs of recovery, Waikiki remains noticeably different from its pre-pandemic state. Japanese tourists, who once thronged Kalakaua Avenue, are virtually absent. Businesses like Maxi jewelers have suffered substantial losses due to the lack of international visitors. The shift in tiers is unlikely to significantly improve foot traffic in Waikiki, according to some business owners.

Financial Support and Uncertain Future

Many small businesses have received support from understanding landlords and the Paycheck Protection Program, but the long-term impact of the pandemic remains uncertain. Businesses like Maxi jewelers, reliant on a specific customer base, face significant challenges in adapting to the new economic reality. The closure of large businesses like T Galleria serves as a somber reminder of the economic struggles facing the area.


  • By: Stewart Yerton, Senior Business Writer for Honolulu Civil Beat
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