On the neighbor islands, ‘resort bubbles’ is an idea being considered

Neighbor Island counties say tech solutions could be key to reopening resorts

HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Neighbor Island counties are experimenting with new technologies they hope will allow some of their resorts to partially reopen.

“Our team is working with interested resort partners on a plan that will allow visitors to spend their quarantine at full-service resorts, which would have programs, policies and activities in place to provide a full vacation experience,” said Kauai Mayor Derek Kawakami.

They’re called “geofencing,” or resort bubbles, and they would allow out-of-state visitors to these self-contained resorts to leave their hotel rooms during their 14-day quarantine to enjoy the resorts’ beaches, golf courses, restaurant and shops but not explore the rest of the island.

Many full-service resorts -- such as Princeville on Kauai, Kaanapali on Maui, Waikoloa on the Big Island and Ko Olina on Oahu -- have been forced to close their hotels and lay off thousands of workers due to the pandemic.

The geofencing devices could be as simple as an app that can be downloaded to a cell phone, which would track the visitors’ whereabouts. If they leave the resort property, it triggers an alarm with the vendor, which would then report to police.

“If you leave the phone in your room and there’s inactivity, the phone will go off,” said Rod Antone, executive director for the Maui Hotel & Lodging Association, who noted that Maui County is working with HNU Photonics of Kahului to develop an app for the county.

“If you try to hand the phone to your son and run off to the bar to have a drink, I’m told the biometrics will sense the difference and an alarm will go off.”

Antone said the technology will help local hotels survive in the interim as the state government tries to develop a mass COVID testing program to allow the tourism industry to reopen for Mainland and Asian travelers.

“Is it a game changer? I think It’s a means of survival,” he said.

“Maybe you open up a wing, maybe you open up a floor of a wing and you bring back enough workers to handle that.”

While resort bubbles could benefit resort destinations like Ko Olina and Kaanapali, some question whether enough visitors will come if they can’t visit Waikiki and natural attractions like the volcanoes.

“That’s not why and how people chose Hawaii. When you come here, you have your favorite restaurant, you want to get shave ice in Haleiwa, surf on the North Shore, maybe watch the sunset on Haleakala,” said Keith Vieira, longtime hotel executive who now heads KV & Associates.

And then there’s the problem of enforcement.

Resorts would be able to manage their customers’ behavior on their properties but would have to rely on police to track down people who break the rules and leave.

“We have a difficult time managing 200 people under quarantine. If we think we’re going to police thousands of people that can’t leave certain bubbles -- either through roadblocks and things like that -- that’s just not a Hawaii vacation experience,” Vieira said.

Copyright 2020 Hawaii News Now. All rights reserved.